Produce wax coatings have revolutionized the freshness and availability of food worldwide, transforming post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables on many different levels. Food waxes have helped reduce food waste and expand food availability to the masses; they’ve also improved the shelf-life, food safety (by killing pathogens), appearance, and sometimes even the nutritional profile and flavor of certain foods.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that all commercial food waxes are considered safe to eat. Some kinds, however, may contain small amounts of petroleum, shellac, morpholine, and other manmade materials or chemicals connected to certain health hazards. Does this make food wax coatings safe? Will consumers be willing to buy and eat wax with these ingredients if they know they’re there? Which post-harvest wax coatings are the best for food safety, in every sense of the word?
All approved food wax is officially deemed safe to be in contact with the food you eat, according to public health experts. Most waxes include only a very small amount of additives whose effect on consumer health is considered negligible. However, if you’re looking for certain types of waxes or wax ingredients to build trust with your consumers, prioritizing natural food wax ingredients in your post-harvest handling is a surefire way to avoid potential harmful additives.
Here are some of the best naturally-derived food wax coatings for post-harvest treatment. These tend to signify a harm-free wax and a failsafe product for public health, assuming no other chemical ingredients tied to health concerns are included.
Many consumers will not only be comfortable with beeswax produce food coatings; they may even be drawn to them. Beeswax invokes a natural, healthy, and safe product. Science shows it may even add some extra health benefits to coated produce, such as lowering cholesterol or improving digestive health, although the amounts may be too small to see any considerable benefits right away.
Not only is beeswax safe to eat, it’s also very effective for the purposes of food wax for post-harvest management. It approves the appetizing appearance of food and has anti-fungal properties to keep spoilage from setting in. Beeswax is usually combined with other vegetable oils to make it more effective, yet still safe to consume or have in contact with food.
For the most part, paraffin wax is made of naturally-derived ingredients, thus making it a food safe post-harvest wax. It’s edible and often used to coat hard cheeses that are widely consumed with little to no shown health hazards.
That said, paraffin waxes are not always made with natural ingredients. Some are made with synthetic resins, chemicals, or other products. On the other hand, paraffin waxes tend to be more effective at improving appearance and reducing spoilage than beeswax. For complete food safety and purity, seek out paraffin waxes that are made only from natural ingredients like vegetable oils, palm oils, and more.
Aloe vera gel
While not exactly a wax per se, aloe vera gel— a substance derived from a renewable desert plant that’s also used in cosmetics— is a healthy coating option and increasingly shown to be very effective for food safety and preservation.
Aloe vera gel is harmless to health and even brings wellness benefits in the form of antioxidants supporting digestive health, diabetes, and blood sugars. It also has antimicrobial properties to boost food safety while helping slow down oxidation and spoilage. Its slick, glossy appearance can enhance the appetizing appearance of certain fruits and vegetables, too.
Naturally derived from some crustacean species and a small number of fungi sources (made from a hard, fibrous substance called “chitin”), chitosan is an all-natural and very effective coating for the post-harvest treatment of fruits and vegetables. No other “safely consumable” natural substance can reach the texture and hardness of fingernails like chitin or chitosan, which makes it very protective of foods!
Studies show it is very good at stopping spoilage, killing microorganisms, and extending the shelf-life of produce when included as an ingredient in wax coatings and sprays. It’s still to be seen if the ingredient can be cheaply made and mass-produced in a way that is economically functional for agriculture and the food industry.
As a natural ingredient that is flavorless, safe to eat, and very effective at protecting post-harvest vegetables and fruits, carnauba wax is one of the best options (and the most economic) in the industry. Carnauba-based coatings are also sustainably produced and harvested from renewable populations of carnauba palm trees in Brazil (both natively sourced and commercially grown), making them one of the most environmentally-friendly options while remaining low on the pollution and waste stream scale.
You’ll also find that carnauba wax is one of the top common types of all-natural food coatings because it is so effective. It reduces gases, oxidation, and spoilage of foods while adding an appetizing sheen to the product, boosting shelf life in the process. Some carnauba waxes are also “fortified” to contain antioxidants that increase the nutrient value of foods. The wax of the plant itself is notably antimicrobial, reducing exposure to bacteria, viruses, and fungi to help perishable foods become fully-food safe products. Many agriculture and food companies choose carnauba wax coatings as their top choice for part of post-harvest handling technology.
There are many options for all-natural and completely food-safe post-harvest wax coatings (or food waxes). While some may not be as effective or economical as synthetic or chemical-laden food waxes deemed “safe” by the FDA, they are almost just as effective or economical, and pose a very competitive and appealing alternative. However, synthetic food waxes don’t have one benefit that natural and food-safe waxes offer: the benefit of posing the least health risks possible. When growers and companies are transparent about prioritizing their use, they win trust and earn reliability from their consumers.