If you have not seen a label like this in the supermarket yet, it will not be long before you do. Apeel is a new coating called a surface finishing agent, and it has been approved to be sprayed on fruits and vegetables, even organic ones under the name Organipeel. It may also be seen under another name – Edipeel. The different names appear with
different applications. The purpose of the coating is to delay spoilage of the food and give it a longer shelf life. Curb appeal, in real estate vernacular is that from a distance something looks appealing. That too applies here. Apeel looks and sounds good, but once we dig into the details a much different story emerges.
Taken from Apeel’s website:
“Apeel keeps produce fresh for longer thanks to the help of a little extra 'peel.' Our plant-based protection slows water loss and oxidation, the primary causes of spoilage… Apeel is composed entirely of purified monoglycerides and diglycerides, edible compounds that can be found in a variety of foods. They are safe to eat as verified by regulatory authorities around the world, including Health Canada, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, they are so safe they are found in products designed for the most sensitive populations, including infant formula and nutrition shakes for the elderly.”
Is this surface finishing agent Apeel safe?
Apeel does have a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) 45 page certification, which means the FDA allows the food manufacturers scientists to determine that it is safe without any long-term testing by an independent source. The main ingredient is monoacylglyceride which is extracted from grape seed oil. However, it is the extraction process that might be a problem. Apeel’s extraction process uses several toxic solvents leaving residues of heavy metals such as palladium, cadmium, lead, arsenic, and mercury along with two other potential toxins heptane and ethyl acetate. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned about these toxins in monoacylglyceride in November 2021, when it stated, “the potential exposure from toxic elements resulting from the consumption of monoacylglyeride could be substantial”. Additionally, a 2017 EFSA review warned of the potential presence of the carcinogen glycidol in monoacylglyceride. Following up on that, in 2000, the W.H.O.’s International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR), recognized glycidol as a probable human carcinogen.
Apeel’s website lists it’s ingredients glycerolipids, specifically monoaglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids but both contain trans-fat which promotes inflammation in the body and has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. A 2012 issue of diabetes care linked monoacylglyceride to diabetes. Apeel’s website also cautions against anyone using the chemical without special training.
Surprisingly, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) gave its approval for Organipeel because it was submitted for approval for having citric acid as it is active ingredient. The Organic Consumers Association says that citric acid is allowed in organic foods if it is not synthetic. There are different forms of citric acid, but we do not know which is in Organipeel. According to The Cornucopia Institute Apeel is also registered with the EPA as a pesticide or more specifically a fungicide because the “active ingredient is citric acid.” However, the fact that the citric acid only makes up .66% of Organipeel leads to the question how such a small amount of something could be the active ingredient. What is the other 99.44% that is not listed?
James Rogers the founder and CEO of Apeel has positioned the company and its product as a humanitarian answer to fighting world hunger by significantly reducing food waste due to spoilage. However, behind the scenes this start up has received 719 million dollars in funding from Anne Wojcici (23 and me), Katy Perry, Oprah Winfrey, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation, as well as other investment firms and venture capitalists resulting in a market capitalization for the company of two billion dollars.
Apeel has already secured partnerships with Nature’s Pride, Del Monte, Eco Farms, Del Rey, Horton Fruit Company, and RV Aguacates all of whom are importers of avocados. Plus, there are partnerships with Sage Fruit Co which is a Washington State organic apple producer and others who manage distribution of asparagus and limes. Presently, Apeel is on avocados, apples, asparagus, limes, lemons, English cucumbers, mandarins, grapefruit, and mangos and there are plans to expand onto other foods. With at least seventy-six patents filed and dozens already granted, Apeel is among the best funded synthetic biology companies. CEO Rogers in 2018 said that Apeel would soon use synthetic biology to produce its product instead of extracting its ingredients from agricultural byproducts such as grape seeds left over from the production of wine and juice. Those seventy-six patents are associated with this future synthetic biology technology.
Apeel on one piece of fruit would certainly not pose any problem for any of us. However, Apeel on 3-5 fruits and vegetables that we would eat every day for years most likely will. This short sightedness on long term testing is typical of government agencies. With the backing of big foundations, and wealthy investors such as Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates, Apeel is on track to dominate the food surface finishing market under the guise of humanitarian motives while undermining the benefits we would expect to get when eating otherwise healthy food. There are other surface finishing agents like beeswax, candelillia wax, carnauba wax, have been used for years and although not completely benign, are natural and others like shellac from the insect Kerria lacca. Microcrystalline wax is petroleum based and certainly not without issues either. However, none of these have used synthetic biology requiring seventy-six patents.
Apeel cannot be washed or rubbed off the fruit or vegetables without damaging them. I do not see this product going away without a massive outcry from the public. Right now, it is too new, and most do not know much about it, but in the next few years as it becomes more widespread in its use, I suspect that there will be a movement to repeal it. For the moment, avoiding and “curbing” the exposure to Apeel is the sensible thing to do.