Fruit wax coverings have been hotly debated by organic, vegan, and food allergic bloggers over the years. I’ve read extensively on the subject and decided to put to rest some long standing rumors on what’s really in or not in fruit wax coverings. I think the conversations on fruit wax and the fears some consumers have are legitimate. Unfortunately, finding out what’s sprayed on our fruit is tricky business. Many formulations are proprietary, meaning their ‘recipes’ are secret. And because the US government doesn’t classify these wax sprays as a food substance, it doesn’t have the same labeling regulation as our packaged food products, organic products, and meat products.
Do food allergy sufferers need to worry about fruit wax?
Are they filled with toxic chemicals that are harmful to our kids? Let me tell you what I’ve discovered.
Why is Produce Covered in a Wax Coating?
Well, there’s nothing like a fuzzy apple loaded with bruises.
Fruit farmers need a solution to protect their produce beyond the harvest season. Fruit wax is used as a preservative to keep apples, oranges, cucumbers, and other produce from going bad. Fruit wax seals in moisture, and when you sell fruit in the off season you need to keep it fresh. Waxes also make fruit look more attractive. Wax creates a shine and protection from browning. On average produce that’s been sprayed will have a 50% longer shelf life.
Manufacturers claim consumers prefer shiny waxed fruit, and in many cases it’s sprayed for cosmetic reasons rather than by necessity. But fruit wax can also prevent fungi from growing on produce if it has fungicides included in the formulation. So certain food products that tend to grow mold quickly may get sprayed to lengthen shelf life. Folks who buy in season and locally from farmer’s markets will not see wax coatings on their produce.
Most organic produce is not waxed, either, as a rule. However, organic citrus fruits and out of season organic cucumbers and organic apples can be waxed.
Are There Health Risks From Eating Fruit Wax Coatings?
If you are buying conventional non-organic fruit you need to be more concerned about pesticides, I think. As part of the harvest process, produce is cleaned before it is sprayed with a fruit wax coating. But some argue that a layer of pesticides get sealed in under that fruit wax covering. I decided to do some fact checking and discovered this is true. I focused on apples especially, since apples top the Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen™ list of most pesticide-contaminated produce. And they are a favorite in school lunch bags across the country. Pesticides showed up in over 98% of samples the group tested and there were over 48 different kinds of pesticides on them. Some samples included chlorpyrifos, which is known to cause ADHD and lower IQ.
Certain pesticides are known neurotoxins, which means they affect a child’s development and brain function. Infants are more at risk from pesticide toxicity than older children and adults because they can’t detoxify these chemicals.
Commercially made fruit wax coatings often use caranuba wax, shellac resin, and an emulsifier. Learn whether or not traces of gluten, dairy, soy, or corn can be found in fruit wax coatings.
I recommend you buy organic produce, but it’s not always affordable. Make a commitment to buying just organic apples, if you can. If you choose to buy organic apples you will greatly reduce your child’s exposure to pesticides.
Ingredients in Fruit Wax Coatings
So what’s all the fuss about fruit wax, anyway? A lot of folks believe the stuff harbors trace amounts of gluten, dairy, and soy in it. I learned that this is both true and false. Yes, there are formulations with these three allergens out there. I don’t believe they are currently being manufactured commercially. You will find a lot of research studies and test studies on fruit wax formulations with these ingredients, which may be reason for the hype in the past.
Heather Jacobsen at Stuffed Pepper did extensive research in 2012. She says, “based on my conversations (with experts in the field) and what I read, I would say that my waxed produce most likely does not have gluten in it. It also seems that the use of casein and soy in waxes are extremely rare, especially in North America.”
Coatings manufacturers guard their trade secrets and are tight-lipped about their ingredients. There is a big science in wax coatings. Fruit wax can be either natural, like carnuba wax, or they can be petroleum based. Some are also coated in shellac resin which is secreted by the female lac beetle. A lot of vegans are very vocal about this, as it is an animal based product being sprayed on produce.
Conventional Wax Coatings
In conventional produce additional ingredients are added to the wax such as morpholine oleate. This compound is used to spray the wax onto the fruit. Scientists claim that only trace amounts are left on the wax after it is applied. Ethanol can also be used in conventional fruit wax. Ethanol is an alcohol produced by yeast from sugars. It’s the same ethanol that is used in beer production. And in the US it is mainly derived from corn. Archer Daniels Midland Co. is one of the world’s leading producers of ethyl alcohol. They derive it from conventional corn (likely GMO, too). Conventional fruit wax sprays also contain preservatives, and fungicides. They can sometimes contain dyes, too. Conventional wax coatings are not digested by the body. But the chemicals in the wax can be absorbed by the body.
Organic Wax Coatings
On the other hand, organic Fruit Wax Coverings cannot be synthetic, contain artificial preservatives or fungicides, and cannot have petroleum-based ingredients. Beeswax, wood resin, and carnuba wax from palm trees are allowed. These ingredients are often combined with vegetable oil, vegetable-based fatty acids, ethyl alcohol and water. Ethyl alcohol can be made from sugar beets or sugar cane, but in the US it is most likely derived from corn.
Some Brand Name Fruit Wax Coatings:
Tal-Prolong: This fruit wax coating consists of sucrose esters of fatty acids and carboxymethylcellulose. It has been effective in delaying the ripening of banana. It is also used to coat apples.
Syncera: Uses an anionic water based emulsion rather than petroleum for wax coating products. They use carnuba wax, shellac resin, and polyethylene (which is vegan but corn derived). Their three products coat citrus fruits and are found in some chewing gum and some cheese products.
Semper Fresh: This produce coating product is used for apples, pears, melons, avocados, cherries, plums, bananas, and more. This product contains sucrose esters of fatty acids, monodiglycerides, and carboxymethylcellulose. This product is similar to Tal-Prolong.
If you’ve done additional research on food wax coverings please let me know. This is an ongoing research project, especially since there are many companies not listed here with proprietary blends on the market.
If you are buying wax covered produce and worried about ingesting the coatings you can wash it off at home. Although, there may be residues left, it’s still a better option than eating the wax coating. Scrub your apples, oranges, and cucumbers with a brush under running water. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests using baking soda as a mild scrubbing agent to help remove dirt and wax. The World Health Organization suggests lemon juice can also provide safe and effective cleaning for fruits and vegetables. A bath of clean water mixed with several drops of grapefruit seed extract is an effective cleaning method for delicate fruit like strawberries and blueberries.