Wax on Fruit: Why they do it, what it is, & how it could make you sick

Wax on Fruit

Why they do it, what it is, & how it could make you sick

 Wax on Fruit, by Pantry Paratus


When I was a kid,  a common party favor was those awful wax lips.  Do you remember them? Sometimes they were vampire teeth and sometimes hillbilly rotting teeth&‐so there was generally a bruhaha over who got the vixen’s ruby red lips. 


Wax Lips 

What, really were you supposed to do with those, anyway?  They weren’t candy, and yet you were supposed to put them in your mouth until they melted, and I imagine more than one mom had them ground into her carpet or shoved under a couch cushion.   I get a tummy ache just thinking about my past melted-wax-consumption.

 This blog is not about that.  It is more about the shuddering sensation I get when I think of that nasty wax coating on grocery store fruit.  In a country where everything (but GMO, that is) has a labeling requirement, why do we not know what they’re smearing on our lovely green apples?  

 Ignorance might be bliss, unless you are on a special diet or prefer to avoid eating fossil fuels.

Why do they use wax on fruit?

Apparently, the wax will seal in moisture.  Have you ever bitten into a grainy, dry apple?  Gak.  It also works as a preservative and increases the shelf life.  It’s true that your waxed fruit would alternatively keep in a root cellar very well wax-free, but the grocery store storage and display does not provide those conditions.  People are accustomed to the shiny red freshness in April, oblivious to the fact that apples do not grow in the spring. 

 Sometimes waxes and coatings are used to protect shine or another facet of appearance.  Some fruits are susceptible to permeable gases like CO², O², or something called ethylene (Thompson, p. 50), like apples and papayas.

 The “fruit coating” is sprayed onto the fruit (sometimes it is a dipping process) with the main intent to “suppress respiration” (the breathable skins release moisture), which keeps the fruit or vegetable tasting more freshly-picked.

 Are there health risks to the wax on fruit?

 Let’s ask this question: do you believe that the food industry takes loving concern to meticulously remove the pesticides from the food before it hits your store shelf?  After all, if the pesticides were only for the growth of the fruit or vegetable and are not needed in your local Piggily Wiggily, why not remove them?  Okay, so here’s the followup—if they did not remove the pesticides prior to serving them to you, do you think they removed them prior to waxing the fruit or vegetable?

 Here’s a not-so-fun fact for you: over 20 million children between 1-5 years old ingest at least 8 pesticides daily.  Another study found 16 different pesticides in 8 baby food products (Cook, p. 71).  So do you really think that your foods have been cleaned prior to the wax sealant?

Spraying Field

 I do have a serious concern with the fact that the substances are not identified for the consumer.  On the list below, you will see things as benign as wood rosin to things much scarier like unknown animal byproducts (sperm oil, shellac) or even yet—heavy coal tar.

 What is the wax on fruit?

 First, I am appalled that there is not an allergy warning applied to the fruit.  Many wax coatings may include animal or insect parts, corn, or wheat.   But I will try to cover those as I go.

 This is the hardest part of the blog for me; I pulled up the FDA food processing guidelines.  Not only is that a snoozy read, but it is just downright disgusting.  I will try to sum up: the allowed substances are a’plenty.  I’m not sure it would be readable to list them all, so if you want to read them all, I suggest going to the riveting FDA guidelines.  I will instead sum up by mentioning the ones I found surprising, confusing, or disgusting.  I should note that I found this list specifically regarding citrus fruit (in which you usually do not eat the peel, unless you grate some for occasional baking). I struggled to find a list for fruit you might eat peel-n-all.

 Sodium Lauryl Sulfate—isn’t this the stuff in your kid’s bubble bath? I mean, the bubble bath you used to buy, until you found out that it had sodium lauryl sulfate in it, anyway? Don’t worry—your kids are getting to ingest it on their fruits and veggies.  It is a “film former” so it would be used in conjunction with many of the other chemicals listed on that super-enjoyable FDA guideline.

 Wood Rosin—this is one that might appear on your organic fruits and vegetables, too.  Al  Natural.

A whole list of “co-polymer” substances, my personal fave being  vinyl chloride-vinylidene chloride copolymer.   That is for anyone who used to chew on the headrest of mom’s old station wagon.  Gotta love the vinyl taste, right?  Someone please tell me that the double-use of the word vinyl is accidental! Well, it isn’t.  The base chemical was originally called “Saran”, as in—yup—Saran wrap.  Same stuff.

  The next one is…well, I’m citing chapter & verse because you won’t believe it and I thought it was an illegal substance so I am confused.

Food and Drug Administration, HHS, § 172.215.  Ready?  Sperm Oil

 Sperm Oil

 It’s a waxy substance obtained from whales and your great grandpa might have trimmed his lanterns with it.  There is an international ban on whaling and so it is no longer legally sold from what I could find online.  It is possible, I suppose, that it is of some other unspecified origin and not from whales.   Otherwise, the FDA guideline and the International protection on whales seem irreconcilable.

 Coumarone-indene resin—not for the flesh of fruits that you actually consume, but for things like oranges, lemons, and the like.  What is this resin? To quote, “The food additive is manufactured by the polymerization of a crude, heavy coal-tar solvent” Keep that in mind if you like to grate your orange peel. 

 There are many, many more.  Please know that if you  have a food allergy to gluten or corn, the FDA warns that fruit with these waxes may not be safe for you.  Do not expect a label, though!

Wax on Fruit might have allergens


  What fruits and vegetables get waxed?

 Here is one list that I found, but I have added to it through other resources:

  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons , limes, grapefruit, & other citrus
  • Bananas & plantains
  • Guava Fruit
  • Avacados (coated to protect shine)
  • Melons
  • Papaya
  • Mangoes

 Can I wash the wax coating off of my food?

 So, how have you always been told to wash your fruit?  We have done a number of different things over the years, specialty fruit washes, vinegar, soap, and even just plain water.   I’m going to surprise you—here is what the FDA says:

 Washing Fruits and Vegetables



One thing no one disagrees upon is that you should indeed wash them.  This day and age, when animal illnesses (like E. Coli) can be passed through plant products, I think we know that you cannot take risks when it comes to potential bacteria exposure. 

I read a few anecdotal blogs and forums where people claimed they could see the wax flake off with a simple water rinse.  Huh? Not mine, and probably not yours either.  It is stubborn stuff.  An acid like vinegar or lemon juice will help.  I would love to see a study to show what percentage of the wax remains, since I do not personally find vinegar to be as thorough as I would prefer.


How can I get produce without wax?

 Grow your own. 


That sounds snarky but I do not mean it to be.  There is no consistent alternative to waxes.  Know your farmer or be your farmer.  Organic fruits will not use petroleum based waxes, but may still use organic ones such as carnauba (which comes from a palm tree) or  shellac (coming from a beetle, you know).  Sorry vegetarians, even your organic fruits might be coated in beetle juice.   The obvious benefit to buying organic is that you are not slowly poisoning yourself with pesticides, but—shellac anyone?

 According to the FDA, fruits and vegetables in their natural state do not require labeling.  One must wonder how coal  tar, wheat or corn residues, plastics, or the application of insect juice could be considered “natural state”.  I suppose I will have to add this to my ever-growing list of questions about the modern food system.

 In the end, we need to ask our grocer what they know about the produce they sell.  Perhaps we need to call the produce company.  On a personal level, I researched this because we were seeing symptoms of a corn allergy when I knew there was nothing else in the diet that contained corn.  Was it the fruit?  Without labeling, I may never know.




Works Cited:

Many sources in which only a single piece of information was utilized (but did not inform the whole of this blog) are not mentioned below but are hyperlinked in the text.  Follow the hyperlinks to read those additional sources.

Cook, C. (2004). Diet for a dead planet. New York: The New Press.

FDA  .Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule.      Last updated 5/22/2013.  http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm111487.htm

Thompson, K. (2003). Fruit and vegetables: Harvesting, handling, and storage. Australia: Blackwell Publishing.




 Photo Credits:

Please feel free to share any photo produced by Pantry Paratus, but please keep proper attribution.  Other photos are listed below:

 Cartoon: Pantry Paratus

Wax Lips:  numberstumper via photopin cc

Sperm OIl,  by Kurzon via Creative Commons

 Spraying Field: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via photopin cc



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

7 thoughts on “Wax on Fruit: Why they do it, what it is, & how it could make you sick

  1. you can quickly just rinse it with boiling water over a bowl of cool water and you’ll see all the wax floating in it and the apple will be dull and weird.

    1. For the last 7 months or so, every morning about 20 minutes after breakfast ( which always includes 1/2 of an organic green apple), I would violently cough with production of tons of phlegm – always clear. I tried to exclude everything else or change supplements. Nothing worked. Then for some reason I tried eliminating the apple. No cough. Then I tried peeling the apple for the past two mornings. No coughing. Then I did a search and found your article. This is disgusting! It seems I have developed a “food” sensitivity to all those chemicals. We are not as free as we once thought we were. Thank you.

  2. I have spent my life being particular about what I eat (most of the time). What I observe is people eat with their eyes and do not recognise the taste of food. Because I do not consume shop-bought ready meals, highly flavoured crisps and snacks, and soft drinks, I recognise that I taste the food which others seem unaware of.
    I make everything from raw ingredients (organic mostly) and did so for my growing family.
    When others say ‘what lovely strawberries, what lovely nectarines’ – all I can taste is the chemicals ,so that 99.9% of the time I only eat for example, the very few strawberries that I grow in my garden.I know the difference. Even with organic there is a nasty taste on the outside, and I was wondering what it was. I hadn’t imagined the wax coating (which I was aware of) actual would contribute to this. So it is a case of ‘grown your own’ and buy organic from the local farmer, if you can.
    I became aware of food additives in the 1970’s and raised my family trying to avoid such things. What I can say as a former nurse, is that many people spend all day caring about the external appearance, but fail to see that they are slowly poisoning themselves, by their lack of thought of what they are doing to their insides.
    Some might say ‘oh,well chemicals are everywhere so why bother’. For that reason alone, they need to bother, especially if they want to be around for a good length of time!

    1. Absolutely, I’m with you. I avoid fruit which I can’t peel and yet we’re told to consume fruit and veg but it concerns me the sprays on the crops, is it any wonder there is an increase in cancer?

      Having said that, I bought some cherries from Aldi the other day, washed them and ate one that immediately tasted of a resin, back of throat felt slightly swelled, so took an anti-histamine to be on the safe side, rather than throw them out I washed them again and soaked them in water, tasted one which tasted okay and delicious, but hen my inside lip and gum went numb. I threw them out and would never buy them again

  3. I have never been successful in getting the wax off with acids as vinegar, citrus, hot water etc. Its disgusting and one can’t even chew them!
    I can’t un-know something. and don’t understand the apathy.
    Another thing is we have to think in today’s standards what is healthy now. Not in the 50’s. When I throw food into the compost and it doesn’t breakdown or bugs don’t eat it – something is wrong

  4. I’m sorry that I lost the name of the university in the USA that actually tried to find a way to remove the wax and poisons off of apples . Their conclusion was that the only way was to peal the apple to remove MOST of poison , but because the poison soaks into the apple they said that it was impossible to remove all of the poison .

    ps : If anyone knows which university did that project , I sure would like to get that info again ;

    In advance : Thank you for this article and the info on which university did that apple wax test .

  5. And what about glyphosate? Desiccation should be banned. Dearer food if we afford it would reduce medical bills. We want to optimise our health. Grow your own or find local producers. Seasonal food would seem to be a priority and the green miles that are saved. Is the GDP of a state really worth all the poison. With the death of trust people need to put their faith in the truth.

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