Image courtesy- Centre of food safety Hon Kong
Did you ever notice the shining surface of fruits placed in supermarkets? It will be bright in color, evenly shaped, and glowing top side. Everybody knows that it’s not the real shine, as that shine comes from the wax coating. And we have been seeing lots of social media posts against the wax coating in apples, mango, and other fruits. Since social media is an influencing platform, people are not ready to investigate the truth behind every news show in it and consume the news as it is. They claim that this wax could course cancer in humans. People take extra effort to remove the wax by cleaning it with baking soda or peeling it. But peel is the most nutritious part of the fruits, most of us don’t want to remove it.
That wax coating isn’t the threat you’ve been told it is. In fact, there’s a very good reason it exists. The most important purposes are presentation and preservation.
The apples are harvested for the commercial purpose. It would go through some cleaning process before it arrives in the market, which might include cleaning with water. Fruits will have a natural wax coating on the surface as a survival mechanism, that will go off in the cleaning process. This wax coating protects the fruit by preventing microorganism invasion and moisture content from escaping. Without the coating, the external spoilage microorganism may enter easily into the food. Fruits are almost 80-95% water. The water might escape from the fruit, shrink and it might spoil without the wax coating.
To supplement or replace the natural protective coat on fruit, wax is artificially applied to produces such as apples, citrus, peaches, and nectarines. The wax applied, not only reduces the moisture loss and enhances the appearance of the product by adding a bright sheen, but also protects the fruits from postharvest decay which extends the shelf life. Waxing can seal small cracks and dents in the rind or skin and establishes a barrier against the entrance of fungal and bacterial pathogens into the product. It also creates a non-water-compatible surface which is not conducive to the growth and development of pathogens.
Fruits are covered by a layer of natural wax which acts as a barrier to reduce moisture loss and at the same time give the fruit a shiny surface. However, after the fruit is harvested and is being washed to clean off dirt and soil prior to sale, a substantial amount of the natural wax on its surface may be removed. Excessive loss of moisture from fruits may result in product shriveling and/or wilting as well as undesirable textural changes which negatively affect the appearance and edible quality of the product.
The added extra wax will tackle all these concerns and elevate the shelf life dramatically and it could be stored for a long period and transported to long distances without spoilage. The glossy appearance given by waxes will improve the aesthetic appearance for the consumers since it’s one of the most important factors for retailers.
Waxing materials can be made synthetically or derived from natural sources. The most commonly used waxes are Carnauba wax, derived from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees, and Candelilla wax, derived from a type of desert shrub native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. These waxes will dilute with so much water and the fruit might dip into the wax or spray using a spray nozzle. Natural waxes may be obtained from insects (e.g. beeswax and shellac) or from plants (e.g. carnauba wax and candelilla wax). These waxes, as kinds of food additives, have been evaluated by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, an international food safety authority, and are considered their uses in foods are not of safety concern. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, waxing is one of the general operations in the fruit packinghouse. Different types of waxes are also permitted to be applied on foods including fruits, in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices or within specified maximum levels, in different countries, e.g. Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, and the United States. The common waxes are derived from nature and no known carcinogens are in these waxes. As well as these waxes are indigestible and will pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.
Fruits coated with food-grade waxes are generally safe to eat. To enjoy the benefits of consuming fresh fruits, always purchase them from reliable shops and wash them (including those with skins and rinds that are not to be eaten) thoroughly under running tap water to remove any lingering dirt before peeling, cutting, and eating.