According to scientists undertaking research in the topic of edible coatings, “the use of invisible, colorless, odorless, tasteless coatings” are considered one of the most important advances in today’s agricultural industry as it is used to keep foods fresh, safe and tasty for extended periods of time.
This is no new conclusion. The use of food grade wax has expanded dramatically since the mid-1980s when only 10 companies dominated the market.
Dr. Attila Pavlath, a leading ready-to-eat fruit and vegetable authority, predicts that “The use of edible films likely will expand dramatically in the future…as health-conscious consumers look for more foods that require minimal preparation like cut fruit and premixed salads.”
Pavlath jokingly refers to Mother Nature as “a very good chemist,” adding that it is his job to spread the word on behalf of his employer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Intrigued? You should be. As a California fruit grower, your future could depend upon adopting his sage advice and buying fruit wax products to extend the shelf life of your produce.
What is fruit film and where did it start?
This is no easy question to answer because the ingredients used to make these coatings have been expanding over time. Merchants trading in oranges grown in China used edible coatings to keep the citrus preserved so it arrived at the emperor’s table moist and plump.
Beginning in the 12th and 13th Centuries, a formative type of wax was used to prevent rapid shrinkage, cut back on spoilage and improve the appearance of fruit, and by the time the 1920s and 1930s rolled around, the process had become acceptable practice for commercial farmers.
Given changes in cultivation practices, genetics and growing innovation, the produce-loving public became accustomed to seeing their fruits and veggies “look shiny,” thus today’s consumer literally buys more fruit when its appearance has been enhanced. Ingredients used to make food waxes has also changed.
Carnuba wax, a byproduct of palm tree leaves, remains one of the original films but the category has grown to include sugar cane, shellac, resin, starch, alginate, carrageenan, gluten, whey, beeswax and blended paraffin waxes. Application is done using a spray or immersion into wax baths before items are boxed and shipped.
How to increase the life of your fruit crop
There’s no arguing with produce growers, distributors and purveyors over the fact that society wants its fruits and vegetables to look delicious, but today’s biological updates have increased the power of fruit coating, so they do more than just look juicy and stay preserved for a longer amount of time. Ever since the process was patented back in 1922 by Ernest Brogden, appearance was just one of the goals shippers sought.
Waxing extends the life of produce because the coating protects the skin from environmental influences that cause everything from dehydration to premature rotting. Today’s products are made with fungicides to inhibit mold growth, compounds that literally delay ripening and some film is so strong, it can keep fruit and vegetables from being bruised when traveling from farm to store.
No farmer need worry that a sophisticated blend of wax ingredients will dig into his budget: These compounds are so concentrated that a single gallon of wax, once diluted with the requisite amount of water, can handle a crop that consists of 10,000 pounds of citrus or 25,000 pounds of nectarines.
Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve every type of wax on the market before it can be sold. Formative hoses, containers and nozzles that did a fair job of covering every piece of fruit have been replaced by a combination of specially-designed hoses and heads plus brush beds that expose more surface as produces travels along conveyor belts to be coated with wax agents.
What types of produce can you wax?
At the University of Michigan where the school’s agricultural curricula focuses on the state’s burgeoning apple growing industry, the topic of fruit wax is serious business, so when students are given a list of foods that are currently on the FDA list of approved wax candidates, you can be sure the following will wind up on a quiz or exam. Need reassurance that your produce is on the list? Follow this guide: Apples, Avocados, Bell peppers, Cantaloupes, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Lemons, Limes, Melons, Oranges, Passion fruit, Parsnips, Peaches, Pineapple, Pumpkins, Squash, Sweet potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips
How fruit growers save money by waxing produce
You needn’t look far to locate a long list of articles, white papers and studies that reveal startling amounts of food waste in the U.S. The sad truth, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is that around 40-percent of everything grown never makes it to market and when it does, Americans throw away about 52-percent of produce.
When Milestone Consulting surveyed 16 farmers, packers and shippers in California’s Central Coast and Central Valley, losses sustained due to weather and market conditions begin the telltale saga of waste. Blaming society’s ongoing search for “the perfectly-round, perfectly-colored, perfectly-sized peach,” says author/farmer David Masumoto, the situation reminds him of the TV show “Survivor.” If it’s not a perfect 10, he says, it’s voted off the island.
Adopt waxing agents, say growers who find this a healthy way to keep crops looking better, stay moist longer and sustain travel in good condition, it’s easy to see why the adoption of film makes so much sense to everyone from the nectarine picker to the buyer making decisions at distributorships and purveyors.
Are all waxes created equal?
You’ve done your homework and used your favorite search engine for reassurances that your decision to wax your produce makes sense—-until you run into alarming headlines: Wax fruits cause cancer! Eat foods with coatings and you’re going to become deathly ill. These negative campaigns have frightened wax makers so much, they have taken to giving their brands upbeat product names in order to calm public fears.
But like most scares generated in today’s Tweet-obsessed world, the truth is always in the middle. To be specific, credible “debunking” sites like Snopes have declared that food-grade waxes are not just safe to ingest but due to the chemical makeup of these formulations, wax films can’t be digested. “They pass through the human body without breaking down or being absorbed,” say experts.
Does this mean that every person on Earth can down a crate of apples daily and not get sick? Hardly. Every digestive system is different and in the same way people discover that peanuts make them ill or strawberries make them break out in hives, people with delicate GI systems or those predisposed to allergic reactions could have trouble eating fruits and veggies that have been coated with a wax product.
Research and progress is on your side
Think of the checks and balances employed by today’s produce wax industry and there are enough assurances to go around. Contemporary applications during a Washington State University study may prove the most comforting statistic of all: scientists concluded that “Coatings are so lightly applied that they’re almost insignificant,” thanks to innovative new formulations that leave such a light coating, it can be less than that of an apple that hasn’t been waxed.
Numbers don’t lie. Apples retaining their natural wax skin measured about 994 parts per million while washed apple wax coverings were just 973 parts per million. Apples coated with commercial waxes? Just 978 parts per million. Statistical differences this minor don’t come along every day, say researchers, so growers can take comfort in the fact that this is a very efficient way to keep produce looking good and staying fresh.