Wax on, Wax off – Wax on Fruits and Vegetables

by Annie on September 16, 2008 · 16 comments

in Eating Healthy

Photo by:  Elena Norbiato.

I often been suspicious of wax on fruits and vegetables.  How safe is it and how much of this wax is going directly to my hips?  This post is about the safety of wax on fruits and vegetables.

Why is there wax on fruits and vegetables?
Wax retains water in fruits and vegetables in the same way that moisturizers do to the skin.  Wax on fruits and vegetables protects against bruising, mold growth, and extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.  Apples, green peppers, cucumbers, and others have natural waxes already, but get washed off during processing.  Supermarkets like waxes because the high shine from the wax makes the fruits and vegetables look attractive and fresh.

What is in the wax on fruits and vegetables?

One type of wax is carnauba, from the leaves of palm trees.  The manufacturer’s claim this product has “a superior natural wax emulsion with a high gloss, long shelf life and superior drying characteristics.”  Sounds like the polish my husband use on his car.

The waxes on food are similar to those used to shine floors, furniture, shoes, and vehicles. Derived from petroleum and natural sources, they often contain some combination of paraffin, shellac, carnauba, polyethylene and synthethic resins. Due to its high melting temperature, the wax cannot be washed off and often used as a vehicle for applying bactericides, fungicides, growth regulators and dyes.

How safe is the wax on fruits and vegetables?
The FDA rather used its limited resources to inspect food with a higher chance of being harmful to people. Waxes on fruits and vegetables are among those products that, because they fall in the category ”generally recognized as safe,” have not been subjected to the rigorous lab and clinical testing.

Even fruits we peeled get the wax treatment such as clementines, avocados, cantaloupes, or pumpkins.  Harmful bacteria might get trapped between the wax and produce during processing. And the only way to remove the wax would be to peel the fruit or produce, but usually the peel is where the fiber is.

What happens to the wax on fruits and vegetables once we eat them?
Waxes are fats.  They are so big that they slide right through our digestive tract without our bodies absorbing them.  One gallon of wax covers 12,000 pounds of fruit.  So we are really not eating that much wax when we eat that cucumber.  Food toxicologists have tested waxes on fruits and vegetables on rats, but have found no effect on metabolism or cancer risk, even when they are eating 10% of their diet from waxes.

Waxes on fruits and vegetables are another way for supermarkets to transport their produce over long distances, not a health concern.

I try not to get the wax on fruits and vegetables whenever possible. But I do not lose any sleep over them. There are other ingredients in our food supply that has the potential to do more damage to our health than the wax on fruits and vegetables.

Stay tune for my future posts discussing our food supplies at the supermarkets by subscribing via email or to my feed. You will only get a notification when I update my blog. If you find this post interesting, you might also be interested in my discussion on supermarket tricks and slotting fees.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

MikeB September 17, 2008 at 1:53 am

If you can by locally grown fruits and vegetables you eliminate the wax and the transportation issue. Its goood to know though that the wax has not ill health effects.

MikeBs last blog post..Cyclocross Practice

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Tom Parker September 18, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I never even thought about the wax on fruits when buying them. I suppose the only vegetables I consume regularly that are affected by wax are apples and peppers. However, it’s still good to see an informative post on this topic. Even better that they don’t appear to be harmful.

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John's Weight Loss Blog September 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Ugh, I hate wax on my fruits and veg. I notice it most on our cucumbers I think.

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asithi September 25, 2008 at 9:07 am

@MikeB – True. The problem is that sometimes you cannot tell what is local anymore. The local produce and the transported produce are sometimes throw together into the same bins. Thanks for the comment.

@Tom Parker and @John’s Weight Loss Blog – Thanks for the comments.

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Scott @ The Passive Dad September 25, 2008 at 9:46 am

I don’t like the thought of ingesting oils on our fruit but I guess our only option is to grow our own fruit or buy organic. It’s amazing how shinny and large apples are compared to a few years ago. I was walking through the fruit yesterday and almost needed sunglasses with the lights reflecting off the fuji apples. Amazing!

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RetiredAt47 September 26, 2008 at 2:42 am

Thanks for doing this research! I too have wondered about the wax on things like apples and cucumbers. I try to grow what I can, and also buy from local farmers. But I still have to frequently resort to the grocery store for a good portion of my fruits and veggies, especially in winter. It’s good to know that at least I don’t have to worry about the wax.

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asithi September 26, 2008 at 3:34 pm

@Scott @ The Passive Dad – Sunglasses huh? Maybe you’ll look cool grocery shopping in them. :D Thanks for commenting.

@RetiredAt47 – I think what we really need to worry about is the genetically modified and cloned food that will be hitting our grocery stores in large numbers in the not so distance future. Thanks for commenting.

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Evita December 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Hi Asithi

This is great, I was just researching wax on produce and landed on your site – how neat! You have done great research here and thank you for putting this together!

I too generally would love to avoid it, but it is not always possible.
.-= Evita´s last blog ..Review: The Green Beaver Company – Frosty Mint Natural Toothpaste =-.

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asithi December 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Evita – Welcome back. I am glad you find this information useful.

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Bwely Sales October 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I recently had a serious sinus infection. I kept trying to figure out how it got so bad. My doctor said it was allergy and antibiotics and allergy meds made it better. I remember having peaches and every time I ate one, I’d feel a tickle in my throat, but assumed it was all in my mind. Later I started again with the dripping nose and sneezing but why? One day I ate an apple (which I’d been eating a couple a day) and shortly started terrible sneezing and coughing. Checking into “food grade” shellac and other “waxes” on apples and peaches, I discovered that many are made with soy. Duh, I’m allergc to soy. Mystery solved. I started eating organic apples, no problem.

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asithi November 6, 2010 at 5:52 pm

@Bwely – The thought of people being allergic to wax on fruits and vegetables has never crossed my mind. I have been slowly moving to buying organic fruits and vegetables myself when they are on sale or close to the price of conventional fruits and vegetables. I know this is bad because most of the fiber is in the peel, but I have been peeling as well. I just don’t want that stuff in my body now that I am pregnant and I am also starting to develop a slight reaction to the wax where my lips get slightly tingly after eating the peel. Thanks for the comment. I learn something new from it.

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Cabo October 22, 2011 at 2:37 am

Just a little trivia about waxed foods:
I once toured a candy making factory. One of their products was jelly beans and I was told that jelly beans get their shiny appearance from a coating of carnuba wax. They then tumbled them in what looked like giant cement mixers until they were nice shiny.

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asithi October 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Cabo – don’t tell me you went to the jelly belly factory? I forgot about that fun fact. Thanks for the comment.

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