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Apeel and Similar Produce Coatings: Which Retailers are On Board, Is it Safe to Consume or A Future Health Risk?



SPRAYING PRODUCE

In recent years, a technology known as Apeel and Organipeel (AKA Edipeel) has been making waves in the agricultural industry. Apeel is touted as a plant-based coating applied to fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life and reduce food waste. With its promise of fresher produce and environmental benefits, many grocery stores are adopting this solution. However, questions about its safety and which stores are embracing it remain prevalent. Let's take a deeper look into the world of Apeel and similar products to uncover the facts and dispel the myths with the help of our NHN Provider and expert nutritionist Donna Monthei, RD, LD with EverVital Nutrition so that you can decide whether you will choose to consume food coated in this product.


Understanding Apeel and Similar Products:


Apeel is marketed as a natural, edible coating made from plant materials such as lipids, (fatty acid molecules) glycerolipids, (help to keep cell integrity) and derived from the peels, seeds, and pulp of fruits and vegetables. When applied to produce, it forms a protective barrier that slows down water loss and oxidation, thereby prolonging freshness. Similar products on the market utilize various formulations but share the common goal of enhancing shelf life and reducing spoilage.


Health Considerations:


One of the primary concerns surrounding Apeel and similar products is the long term potential impacts on human health. While these coatings are generally recognized as safe by regulatory bodies such as the FDA, some consumers worry about potential chemical residues or alterations to the produce. Testing has shown that Apeel and similar coatings leave no detectable residue and do not alter the taste, texture, or nutritional content of fruits and vegetables.


With this said, the NHN encourages consumers to do their own research and determine for themselves whether they feel safe consuming any product on the market.


After taking deeper look than just what is printed on the label or marketing pieces, a few concerns arose:


  • Does extending the shelf life of a food diminish its nutritional value?

  • This product is exempt from FDA premarket approval.

  • Is consuming toxic substances included in the manufacturing process per the 6th paragraph of this article on the FDA website even in small amounts safe?

  • Consuming a new product with little knowledge of the long-term health and environmental risks.

  • Would you feel safe regularly consuming this coating that cannot be washed off of the produce you purchase?


Stores Embracing Apeel and/or Organipeel:


Several major grocery chains have adopted Apeel and similar technologies due to their perceived benefits for both consumers, profit margins and the environment. This is not a complete list, just a few that we could verify locally.


Retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Trader Joes, Sprouts, Walmart, Target and Costco have integrated Apeel-treated produce into their offerings siting providing customers with fresher products and helping to combat food waste.


Stores Yet to Adopt Apeel and Similar Products:


While many grocery stores have embraced Apeel and similar products, some have yet to incorporate them into their produce departments. Factors such as cost, logistical challenges, and consumer preferences may influence a retailer's decision to hold off on adopting these technologies. If you prefer your retailer of choice continue to avoid use of this product on produce your purchase, contact your retailer to politely voice your concerns.


A few stores that currently do not intend to carry produce treated with Apeel or similar products include: H-E-B, Publix, Driscoll's berry company and Natural Grocers.


We recommend purchasing produce from local farmers, farmers markets or better yet, growing your own!


We asked NHN Member and expert nutritionist Donna Monthei, RD, LD with EverVital Nutrition to weigh in on this subject. Here is her response:


Donna shared:


Whenever I'm asked about new products on the market, I always head straight to the science to see what the data shows. Although Apeel, Edipeel and other edible coatings have been around for a few years now, there really isn't much data regarding the effect on humans. Most studies have looked at whether the shelf life is truly extended due to edible coatings, and they seem to conclude that there is a benefit in that way.


Studies (PMID: 38559379, 31861657, and others) show that edible coatings like Apeel do accomplish that - they can prevent the passage of water vapor and other gasses, microbial growth, moisture loss, and oxidation so shelf life can be extended.   This primarily benefits the grocers, but also increases shelf life at home for fresh produce, so it should result in less waste at home.  In addition, much of this produce is currently packaged in plastic, so edible coatings will reduce plastic in the landfill too.  So we do have food waste and environmental benefits.


What are the concerns?  There are a couple of potential concerns with edible coatings such as Apeel and Edipeel, and unfortunately, we won't know the long-term effects, if any, for quite some time.  There is a lack of available data from long-term randomized-controlled double-blind trials regarding any potential side effects of Apeel or similar edible coatings.


First, the lipid used in Apeel is grapeseed oil, which contains approximately 70% omega-6 linoleic acid.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s), especially Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-9 fatty acids, when consumed in high quantities, or have a higher-than-ideal ratio to Omega-3 fatty acids, can increase inflammation, cause hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, and obesity.


Some studies, like this one from Zhang et al., show that people with higher ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in their blood are at greater risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, or any cause than those with lower ratios.  It is unknown whether the accumulation of the small amount of omega-6 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) found in Apeel can contribute to disease or not.  We simply don't know yet.  Consumers should be aware of the presence of omega-6 fatty acids in Apeel and should have a choice as to whether they choose foods with these edible coatings or not.  As of now, foods with Apeel are likely to be labeled with a sticker like this (which really doesn't say much):


Second, some edible coatings incorporate probiotics (I don't think that Apeel does) into their formulations which allows for the exchanges of gases between food and the atmosphere, diminishes or prevents loss of moisture and aromas and/or protects against undesired microorganisms.   While we love probiotics for gut health, we hope that the foods coated with these probiotic-rich formulas are labeled as such.  Consumer awareness is key.


And third, while Apeel may be derived from grape seeds, a natural source, its manufacturing process involves high heat and exposure to solvent - Apeel is highly processed.  Just because this product has FDA approval doesn't mean that consumers want to consume apples covered in a processed coating.  


Consumer choice is important with regard to edible coatings like Apeel or Edipeel because there simply isn't enough data to answer the question: If you were to consume vastly higher than average amounts of fruits and vegetables (like we recommend for gut health!), might that expose you to unsafe or unwanted levels of any of the “Apeel” ingredients or by-products? 


For me personally, I won't get too worked up if I eat an apple once in a while that is coated with Apeel, but I will choose produce without edible coatings when I have the option. 


I do most of my grocery shopping at H-E-B, so Texans are lucky that they've chosen not to include foods with edible coatings. :)


If you have further questions about the affects of produce coatings or want help improving your overall health starting with gut health, contact Donna Monthei, RD, LD. Learn more about what she offers via her interview with NHN here.


How do you feel about Apeel, Organipeel and similar products? Do you choose to avoid or embrace stores that allow its use?

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