Most fruits and vegetables produce a natural wax coating as a protective barrier between them and their environment, mostly to repel water and prevent moisture from escaping. But these days, because produce is shipped around the world every day, it needs additional protection to survive long distance travel.
That’s where produce waxing comes into play. Produce waxing is the process of covering fruits and vegetables with artificial waxing material to keep produce from going bad, to seal in moisture and make it look more attractive on the grocery store shelf (have you ever noticed how shiny those store-bought apples are?). On average, produce that’s been sprayed will have a 50% longer shelf life.
But is Produce Wax Coating Safe to Eat?
There are several common waxing materials. They may be natural or petroleum-based. We recommend you steer clear of petroleum-based waxes, as they may contain solvent residues or wood rosins. Ask your grocer what type of wax is used on their produce – they should know the answer. However, natural waxes are considered edible and safe for human consumption, the same way sausages are consumed with their casing.
The most common natural waxes are:
– carnauba wax from the carnauba palm tree
– shellac from the lac beetle
If you are buying conventional produce, the real concern here is the pesticides. As part of the harvest process, produce is cleaned before it is sprayed with a fruit wax coating. A layer of pesticides gets sealed in under that fruit wax covering. This is concerning, as certain pesticides are known neurotoxins, and can 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.
How to Clean Your Produce
While the natural waxes applied to produce are not known to have any negative effect on health, you may prefer to wash your produce before consuming (we think it’s just good practice – you’ll also be removing dirt and other residue).
For Smooth-Skinned Produce:
Mist the fruit or vegetable with a blend of vinegar and water at a 1 to 3 ratio in a spray bottle, thoroughly coating its exterior with the vinegar solution. Allow the produce to rest for 30 seconds before rubbing its surface and rinsing it under cold, running water. The FDA recommends cleaning smooth-skinned fruits and vegetables by gently rubbing them with your hands instead of an abrasive scrubber. This prevents you from breaking the skin before the fruit or vegetable is completely clean, which could expose the flesh to contaminants.
For Rough- or Firm-Surfaced Produce:
Broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, melons, potatoes, berries and other produce without a smooth or soft surface are slightly more difficult to clean. They require a soaking in a 1 to 3 vinegar and water mixture. This ensures the acidic blend kills all bacteria. After their soak, scrub the vegetables with a brush and rinse them under running water.
TIP // According to Colorado State University, blending lemon juice with the vinegar mixture makes it more effective by increasing the acidity. This can help kill increased amounts of bacteria, including E. coli. Washing berries with a vinegar solution offers additional benefits — it prevents them from molding within a few days of purchase.
But What if I Want to Avoid Fruit Wax Altogether?
1. Grow your own (and after harvesting do not wax them).
2. Buy local. There are high chances that the farmers have not waxed their fruits after harvesting.
3. Check the label and buy unwaxed produce.