Wax on produce

Why there may be wax on your produce.

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain 80 to 95 percent water. Constant loss of this water starts as soon as it is picked and eventually leads to shriveling, poor texture and poor quality. Especially in warm climates, plants secrete waxes as a way to control losing water.

To protect against excessive moisture loss, many fruits and vegetables secrete natural wax coatings. After harvest, but before the produce is packed and sent to the supermarket, produce may be washed several times. All this washing removes the natural wax, so food processors add a thin layer of man-made edible wax to replace the natural wax that is lost to prevent shriveling and mold growth. In the United States, waxes have been used on fruits and vegetables since 1924. All food-use waxes are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA).

Some produce that may have wax applied includes avocados, oranges, melons, turnips, bell peppers, apples, lemons, limes, peaches, pineapple, parsnips, squash, passion fruit, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, eggplant, grapefruit, tomatoes and cantaloupes.

Waxes help to:

  • Retain moisture in fruits and vegetables from the farm to the market
  • Retain moisture while in stores and restaurants
  • Retain moisture while in our homes
  • Stop mold growth
  • Protect fruits and vegetables from bruising
  • Prevent other physical damage and disease
  • Enhance appearance

The edible waxes are used only in tiny amounts to provide a microscopic coating that surrounds the fruit or vegetable. Each piece of waxed produce has only a drop or two of wax.

Wax coatings used on fruits and vegetables must meet the USDA food additive regulations for safety. Produce shippers and supermarkets in the U.S. are required by federal law to label fresh fruits and vegetables that have been waxed so you will know if the produce you buy is coated. Watch for signs that say, “Coated with food grade vegetable, petroleum, beeswax or shellac based wax or resin, to maintain freshness.”

Michigan State University Extension food safety experts advise that waxed produce should be scrubbed using warm water to remove any dirt that might adhere to the wax. The procedure may remove some the wax.

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