We received the following inquiry from one of our readers:
I was washing my nectarines from WA State (I live in Idaho where the peaches and nectarines are not good). They felt waxy. I read the box and this (see image above) is what is on them. I washed them in cold water, dried them and rinsed them again. What is this stuff? Can it hurt me?
Great questions. Here are the answers briefly, then in detail. This stuff is a protective wax, approved by the FDA. It most likely can’t hurt you.
Now in detail.
First, you need to understand why fruit is waxed. According to the FDA:
Many vegetables and fruits make their own natural waxy coating. After harvest, fresh produce may be washed to clean off dirt and soil – but such washing also removes the natural wax. Therefore, waxes are applied to some produce to replace the natural waxes that are lost. Wax coatings help retain moisture to maintain quality from farm to table including: when produce is shipped from farm to market, while it is in the stores and restaurants, once it is in the home. Waxes also help inhibit mold growth, protect produce from bruising, prevent other physical damage and disease, and enhance appearance.
So basically, industrial agriculture and distance from farm to fork dictate food safety/freshness protocols. Another reason is that waxed fruit look much more appealing to the eye. And that’s good marketing!
What’s the wax made of?
There are several types of ingredient that can be used to create the wax that is used by packers:
1. Shellac – derived from the secretions of a tiny lac insect that are left on host trees (in India). The resin is then processed into shellac. Used on citrus fruit, apples, and pears. It is perfectly safe.
2. Carnuba wax (Brazil wax) – sourced from the leaves of Brazilian trees called Copernicia prunifera. Sometimes it’s called Brazil wax. The wax is obtained by beating the leaves until the wax flakes off. It is then refined and bleached. Used on stone fruits (like nectarines) and some vegetables. It is perfectly safe. Read more here…
3. Petroleum based wax – this includes paraffin, mineral oil, and polyethylene. Used on melons, stone fruits, and tropical fruits and in a variety of vegetables. While not technically food, there no health issues here in the tiny amounts used on produce.
4. Beeswax – this is the wax produced by bees to build their hives. Sometimes you’ll see honey sold with a piece of hive in the jar as a marketing gimmick – that’s beeswax. Safe.
5. Candelilla wax is derived from the leaves of a small shrub native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Safe.
In addition to the waxes mentioned above, other ingredients may be added to the wax:
1. Oleic acid – this is a naturally occurring fatty acid present in both animal and vegetable fats and consumed safely by humans. It is commonly added to the wax. Safe.
2. Emulsifiers are chemicals that help water and oil stay mixed together. They can be plant or animal derived. Safe.
3. Proteins – are used to thicken shellac type waxes. They can come from soy or from casein (milk protein). Safe.
As you can see, nothing is ever simple in our food industry. But all the materials used for waxing your fruit are benign, and in tiny amounts, so you should not be concerned from a health perspective.