Many fresh fruits and vegetables make their own natural waxy coating to help retain moisture. Extensive washing at the packinghouse removes this natural wax, so waxes are applied to some produce items to replace the natural ones that are lost.
Each piece of waxed produce only has a drop or two of wax. Waxes may be mixed with water or other wetting agents to ensure they are applied thinly and evenly.
Waxes help retain the fruit's or vegetable's moisture during shipping and marketing. Waxes also help to inhibit mold growth, to protect fruits and vegetables from bruising, to prevent other physical damage and disease, and to enhance appearance. By protecting against moisture loss, wax coatings help fresh fruits and vegetables maintain wholesomeness and freshness.
Waxing does not improve the quality of any inferior fruit or vegetables; rather, waxing — along with proper handling — contributes to maintaining a healthful product.
When it comes to waxed or unwaxed produce items, consumers do have choices. Waxes generally cannot be removed by regular washing. Consumers can buy unwaxed commodities or can peel the fruit or vegetable, thereby removing any coating.
Commodities that may have coatings applied include apples, avocados, bell peppers, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplants, grapefruits, lemons, limes, melons, oranges, parsnips, passion fruit, peaches, pineapples, pumpkins, rutabagas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, and yucca. However, they are not always waxed.
Waxes may turn white on the surface of fruits or vegetables if they have been subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. This whitening is safe and is similar to that of a candy bar that has been in the freezer.
Waxes by themselves do not control decay; rather, they may be combined with some chemicals to prevent the growth of mold. The safety and use of these substances are strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Coatings used on fruits and vegetables must meet the food additive regulations of the FDA. Extensive research by governmental and scientific authorities has shown that approved waxes are safe to eat. Waxes are indigestible, which means they go through the body without breaking down or being absorbed.
FDA requires wax labeling for fresh fruits and vegetables that have been treated with postharvest wax or resin coatings. Consumers will see signs in produce departments that read: “Coated with food-grade vegetable-, petroleum-, beeswax-, and/or shellac-based wax or resin, to maintain freshness” followed by a list of the commodity (-ies) coated with these waxes or resins). In today's marketplace, none of these coatings is animal-based, and they all come from natural sources.
Packaged fresh fruits and vegetables that have information on the label (such as the product name, weight or brand) must also be labeled for wax or resin coatings by the packer, repacker, or shipper.
If a wax coating contains allergenic protein, it must be labeled as such pursuant to the Food Allergy Labeling Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
PMA members who wish to learn more about wax (or other produce) labeling issues are encouraged to refer to our Nutrition & Produce Labeling Guide.
PMA believes that wax coatings are a key postharvest quality treatment for fresh fruits and vegetables that protect against moisture loss and help maintain wholesomeness and freshness. PMA supports the U.S. government's regulation of wax coatings. PMA also believes in providing consumers the choice in the marketplace, including waxed and unwaxed fruits and vegetables.