Sunday, March 4, 2012

What's that Stuff on your Vegetables?

English: Fruit on display at La Boqueria marke...Image via Wikipedia
Have you started eating your five servings of vegetables daily only to find out that there are some unusual looking coatings on your veggies?  Well, many have.  It's been found even on the "organically grown" vegetables. What is the stuff? Is it harmful?

This post will attempt to answer those questions and to identify the coating on vegetables.

Modified Atmospheric Packaging - What is it?

Modified atmosphere packaging involves either actively or passively controlling or modifying the atmosphere surrounding the product within a package made of various types and/or combinations of films. They may contain boiled crushed bones, connective tissues, organs and intestines of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken and pigs.  That sounds very appetizing, doesn't it?

The looming questions are, is it safe? Why is this being added to the foods? And, what are the long term effects?  No one ever seems to have the answers to these questions until something happens to large groups of people.

What happened to full disclosure?

 In these days of informed consumerism, most people object to having any type of substance added to their food without their knowledge. That is supposed to be the law, but, scientists are busy helping food manufacturers extend the shelf life to foods. So it is not even about what the consumer wants. (For example, I was surprised to find out that many vegetables have wax coating added to their skins to prolong their shelf life.) So, it has been proposed that the addition of this coating to fruits and vegetables is a modern day technique to extend the shelf life for vegetables.  But, at what cost to the public?  

How is the coating applied to the foods?

What happens is the food is sprayed with a substance that forms a thin film which limits the oxygen levels thereby slowing down the ripening and decaying of foods. The film can contain lipids (fats, oils), resins (shellac and wood resin), polysacharides (pectin, starch carrageenan) and proteins.

Also added may be antimicrobials to limit bacterial growth, antioxidants and texturizers.

Is the stuff safe to eat?

Alterations of the oxygen levels may do strange things to the food that may cause changes in the maturation process.  This may be linked to the foods having strange flavors and smells. And the introduction of bacteria, such as botulism, which grows in oxygen depleted environments.

So, it appears that there are risks involved.

Another viewpoint

It has also been suggested that this residue or coating could be the result of an epidermal freeze caused by cold weather.  This means that the outer layer of the vegetable is damaged by cold temperatures causing it to form an outer layers.

Both theories are questionable.  The disturbing fact here though is why isn't the public informed about this?

How to avoid the coating

The best ways to avoid unsightly and potentially harmful things are to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables which are subjected to being flown across country to a supermarket shelf.

Join, or form, a local or community garden.  I see these things in many communities.  Neighbors participate, care for and share the harvest of such gardens. What better way is there to enjoy and benefit from whole foods?


"Modified Atmospheric Packaging"
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