“Apeel” Fruit and Vegetable Protective Coating Is Not So Appealing When You Break It Down

EDITOR’S SUMMARY: New fruit and veggie sticker alert—“Apeel”—“protective coating.” What exactly is this product protecting? And if it’s not your health, what price are you willing to pay to foster the longevity of your apples and lemons? This might seem like a stretch, but in a culture that demonizes aging, and celebrates turning back time, compartmentalizing aspects of your body and face, and insisting you look “great,” i.e. “young” forever—it’s no wonder your fruits and veggies must follow suit. When it comes to food, however, you know the old adage—if there are a plethora of ingredients, or too many (even one) you can’t pronounce—be suspicious of what’s inside. Apparently, shopping the periphery of your grocery store isn’t enough. Once you’ve learned the ABCs of Apeel, you can make a well-informed, health-conscious decision to say yea or nay.

**This article was last updated on 05-25-24 (see below).
*This article was updated on 10-28-23 (see below).

Written by Jennifer Wolff-Gillispie HWP, LC
Edited by Nicki Steinberger, Ph.D.

Collectively we’ve come to believe that fresh fruits and vegetables are undisputedly part of a healthy diet. On the other hand, if you’ve stumbled upon the research about “plant defense chemicals,” and question the validity of packing in the produce … We’ll save that conversation for a future story. 

Regardless, finding items on your store shelves at their peak of perfection and ripeness is often a challenge. One company, “Apeel Technology, Inc.” (d.b.a. Apeel Sciences), based in Goleta, California claims to have an effective solution—“Edipeel.” 

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 can be found in products designed for the most sensitive populations, including infant formula and nutrition shakes for the elderly.” 

Before we jump into the science of the Apeel product, take a look at this two-minute video, released on June 2, 2023 by Organic Consumers Association: OMRI [Organic Materials Review Institute]: Apeel “Could Be Out of USDA Organic Compliance.” The description says:

“OMRI responded with a statement that the use of Apeel’s Organipeel as a fruit coating “could be out of USDA organic compliance.” OMRI says it never approved Organipeel for use as a fruit coating. “[A]ny product that is OMRI Listed® as a fruit coating needs to contain only ingredients that are not restricted on the USDA National List, and agricultural ingredients that are organically produced,”’ wrote OMRI Marketing Manager Roger Plant.”

Mono-, di- and triglycerides are composed of glycerol and either one, two or three fatty acid chains, respectively. As a form of fat they can either be saturated or unsaturated. Both mono- and diglycerides are often extracted from plant and animal sources and are used commonly as a food additive to emulsify, improve the texture and prolong the shelf life of processed foods such as baked goods, margarine, mayonnaise, ice cream, nut butters, frozen meals and processed meat products.

At first glance this may strike you as a reasonable idea—“plant-based,” edible, safe enough for babies, less food waste, and longer storage life. However, as we dig deeper and discover more, you can decide if the product meets its claims, and if you want Apeel covering your food. 

Who’s On Board

Apeel Technology was founded in 2012 by James Rogers, a Ph.D. scientist out of U.C. Santa Barbara, who began searching for a solution to the perishability of the produce he noticed growing abundantly on his drive through the central coast of California; on the way to his Berkeley lab.  He was named a World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Global Leader in 2020.

To date, Apeel has received 719 million dollars in funding from multiple sources, including Anne Wojcicki (23andMe), Katy Perry, Oprah Winfrey, GIC (the sovereign wealth fund of the government of Singapore), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, as well as a number of other investment firms and venture capitalists. 

Among their board members you will find Walter Robb; former co-CEO of Whole Foods and Senior Executive Partner at S2G Ventures (an Apeel investor), Yves Sisteron; Founding Partner at Upfront Ventures, (an Apeel investor) and Vijay Pande; an Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford, serves on the board of Scribe Therapeutics (a CRISPR company), founded Globavir Biosciences (an infectious disease start-up), and is General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz (an APEEL investor). 

Apeel has already secured the following partnerships:

  • Nature’s Pride (large importer of Europe’s avocados) 
  • Sage Fruit Co. (Washington state organic apple producer)  
  • Del Monte (avocados) 
  • Eco Farms (avocados) 
  • Del Rey (avocados) 
  • Horton Fruit Company (avocados) 
  • RV Aguacates (avocados) 
  • Alpine Fresh (asparagus) 
  • Beta (asparagus) 
  • Farm Direct Supply (asparagus) 
  • La Venta (asparagus) 
  • SiCar Farms (limes) 

Many other fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumbers, raspberries, as well as citrus can use the Edipeel coating, with undoubtedly more produce being added in the future. Apeel’s website even offers a store locator to find where their products are carried near you.

**EDITOR’S UPDATE: 05-25-24
In addition to the grocers’ list below, which by the way is in flux, here is where you will find an updated list (as of 05-12-24) of growers and retailers with an account of their policies and disclosures on using Apeel. 

Apeel is (or will be) available at the following grocers:

  • Gelsons 
  • Albertsons
  • Ralphs 
  • Vons 
  • Walmart (in question)
  • Whole Foods (in question)
  • Kroger 
  • Harps Foods 
  • Wakefern 
  • Price Right 
  • Fairway Market 
  • Target 
  • Bristol Farms and more
AVFCA Protect yourself

How Safe Is Safe? You Decide

In October 2019, Apeel Sciences sent a notice of submission to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notification for their use of “a mixture of monoacylglycerides derived from grape seed.” The notice states

“Apeel Sciences has determined that a mixture of monoacylglycerides (i.e., monoglycerides or fatty acid monoesters of glycerol) derived from grape seed is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), consistent with Section 201{s) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This determination is based on scientific procedures as described in the following sections, under the conditions of its intended use in selected food. Therefore, the use of a mixture of monoacylglycerides derived from grape seed is exempt from the requirement of premarket approval.

It should be noted that although the substance is referred to as ‘a mixture of monoacylglycerides’ throughout this document (which is consistent with the nomenclature used in GRN 648), the substance may also be identified as ‘mono- and diglycerides’ in the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and international regulatory bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius.

Grapeseed oil, a mixture of triglycerides containing common dietary fatty acids, is extruded from grape seeds by mechanical pressing. The oil is processed to generate monoacylglycerides containing exclusively the same naturally occurring fatty acids in the grape seed oil in their saturated forms. Common dietary fatty acids that naturally occur in grapeseed oil (Kamel et al., 1985)—linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and palmitoleic acids—are processed to generate the saturated forms…”

This may sound innocuous or even healthy, but according to leading health experts, grapeseed oil is composed of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s), especially Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-9 fatty acids, that when consumed in high quantities, or have a higher-than-ideal ratio to Omega-3 fatty acids, increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, and obesity.

The notice continued:

“The catalyst used to generate the monoacylglycerides and the neutralizing agent subsequently used to quench the catalyst are both safe and suitable for use in food. A liquid–liquid extraction with water and heptane or ethyl acetate4 is performed to remove unreacted glycerol, residual catalyst, and the residual neutralizing agent. The saturated forms of the naturally occurring fatty acids are then formed in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst (20% w/w palladium hydroxide supported on carbon).”

The notifier estimated that the expected consumption of diacylglycerol oil from its uses would range from approximately “5.11 g/person/day (0.09 g/kg bw/day) for mean user consumption and 11.50 g/person/day (0.21 g/kg bw/day) for the 90th percentile user consumption.”

It is important to mention that mono- and diglycerides when ingested enter the bloodstream, and are converted to triglycerides. They also go by other names including, distilled mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, mono- and diglyceride esters and diacylglycerol oil. 

In addition, mono- and diglycerides contain slight amounts of trans fat. Since they are classified as emulsifiers and not lipids, the FDA ban does not apply. 

High levels of triglycerides are attributed to hardening of the arteries, (arteriosclerosis) which increases your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also puts you at risk for pancreatitis.

Nutrition researcher, Mary Enig, Ph.D., had this to say about mono- and diglycerides:

“[They are] usually by-products of fats and oils processing such as partial hydrogenation and various forms of extraction and interesterification processes. Even though they do have some caloric value, they are not counted as fats, and the fatty acids are not identified as having a particular composition. If they are fatty acids with trans bonds, they are not likely to be identified as such, nor would they be identified as any particular fatty acid…

… as the public becomes more aware of the dangers of trans fats, the industry may be tempted to add more MGs [monoglycerides] and DGs [diglycerides] containing trans fats in order to obtain the qualities they want in a food without having to list trans fats on the label.”

The FDA notice goes on to state that the “Processing Aid Residuals” of Ethyl acetate is not more than 21,000 mg/kg (1 mg/kg = 1 ppm) and Heptane is not more than 23,000 mg/kg. 

(Note: The CDC warns that “Ethyl acetate can affect the body if it is inhaled, comes in contact with the eyes and skin or is swallowed.” 

As for hexane, according to Toxic Free Future, whose mission states:

“Toxic-Free Future is creating a healthier tomorrow by advocating for the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through advanced research, grassroots organizing, and consumer engagement.” 

They had this to say:

“Short-term exposures affect the central nervous system (brain) and can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, clumsiness, drowsiness, and other effects similar to intoxication. If exposures are high and occur frequently over months or years, effects on the brain can be long-lasting and possibly permanent

High levels of exposure have been associated with a medical condition called peripheral neuropathy—symptoms include numbness and tingling in the feet and legs, and then in the hands.

In addition to the chemical residuals from catalyst and neutralizing agents, heavy metals were found to be left behind: 

  • Palladium: (from Pd/C catalyst): Not more than 10 mg/kg (“All palladium compounds should be regarded as highly toxic and as carcinogenic.”)
  • Arsenic: Not more than 3 mg/kg (“Arsenic can be harmful to the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys, lungs, and lymphatic system. Exposure to arsenic can also cause cancer.”)
  • Lead: Not more than 2 mg/kg (“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children… There is no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects.”)
  • Cadmium: Not more than 1 mg/kg. (“Exposure to low levels of cadmium in air, food, water, and particularly in tobacco smoke over time may build up cadmium in the kidneys and cause kidney disease and fragile bones. Cadmium is considered a cancer-causing agent.) 
  • Mercury: Not more than 1 mg/kg of this known neurotoxin.

However, Apeel Technology clearly states, “residue levels have been set to no more than 10% of the most conservative recommended exposure limit from the literature for each solvent.”

The Apeel coating is intended to be applied to apples in a ratio of 108 g / 100 kg fruit. Grapes and strawberries would be applied at a ratio of 118 g / 100 kg fruit. The coating is not “expected” to travel into the fruit beyond the peel. 

Are you convinced? How much is too much, and do you want ANY of this substance in your body?

Making Your Way Through the Thick of It

While it may be a challenge to navigate through the science in order to decipher if this product is an option for you, perhaps you’d be willing to consider a few things before making your judgment call: 

  • How do you feel about consuming a product that is exempt from premarket approval based on previous studies, but not on Edipeel itself (“the intended use of a mixture of monoacylglycerides derived from grape seed has been determined to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) based on scientific procedures… A comprehensive search of the scientific literature on monoacylglycerides was utilized for this assessment.”?
  • Is consuming unneeded toxic substances (palladium, arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, ethyl acetate, and hexane) from the manufacturing process safe (even in small quantities)?
  • If you were to consume vastly higher than average amounts of fruits and vegetables, might that expose you to unsafe or unwanted levels of any of the “Apeel” ingredients (or by-products, e.g. triglycerides, and Omega-6 and -9 fatty acids)?
  • With the expansion of worldwide partnership contracts, is it a good idea to treat your food supply with a new product, without knowing the potential long-term health and environmental risks to humans and the planet?
  • If such is the case, do you want to buy products from a company that is backed by investors you may not align with?
  • Are you comfortable knowing Apeel has been applied to your USDA Organic Certified produce,” and only in amajority of cases will the product be labeled?
  • Do you want to bite into that crisp apple or tasty cucumber knowing you can’t completely wash off the coating it was sealed with?
  • Is there a safer, natural way to preserve your food longer?
AVFCA Farm produce

Good ‘Ole Common Sense

Luckily there are safer, natural ways to preserve your food. Take avocados for example: They’re delicious, but you usually only have a few days of perfect ripeness. Once you bring them home and they get to their “sweet spot,” you can store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze them whole, sliced, in chunks, or mashed. They will keep for three to six months. 

Heavenly, succulent strawberries can be briefly soaked in a vinegar and water solution to be cleaned thoroughly. Let them dry completely, and store in a mason jar (with a paper towel at the bottom) in the refrigerator for three weeks or more. 

Sweet, colorful apples can be stored in a cool, humid place such as a basement, garage, or refrigerator for up to five months. Other fruits and vegetables have their optimal long-term storage methods. 

With the ever-expanding ways you are being exposed to toxic materials in the environment—through air, water, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and household cleaners— minimizing potential risks, and guarding your health by choosing the most natural items available, seems like a pretty wise idea. 

As far as food specifically, finding local farmers who grow organic, unadulterated fruits and vegetables (or growing your own), and preserving them in good old-fashioned ways, will ensure you know exactly what you’re getting. 

Now is the time to reach out to your local grocer so they know how you feel about having this coating slathered on your produce. Ask to speak to the produce manager (generally the produce buyer), and begin your inquiry:

  • Are they contracted with distributors or farms who use Apeel?
  • Do they plan on allowing Apeel products in the store?
  • How will the products be labeled
  • In addition to the individual Apeel sticker on the fruit or veggie, will they place a store sign next to each produce type, that clearly informs shoppers Apeel has been applied to their avocados, lemons, etc.?
  • Will staff be educated about Apeel, and trained how to answer customers’ questions?
  • Request they do not support nor allow Apeel items in the store, as there are health risks involved with using this product.
  • Print out a copy of this article for them, or get their email address and send it to them.

*EDITOR’S UPDATE: 10-28-23
There has been a lot of talk on social media stating that Bragg Live Food Products (makers of “Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar”) is currently using Apeel-coated apples in their formulations. 

Katy Perry (an Apeel investor), along with her husband, Orlando Bloom, and 3 additional investors (Hayden Slater, ​​private equity firm Swander Pace Capital, and investment firm Dragoneer Investment Group), took over the company from the Bragg family in 2019. It was stated that Patricia Bragg (daughter of founder, Paul Bragg) wanted to retire, but would continue with partial ownership of the company. Patricia passed away in August 2023 at the age of 94. The role of CEO, which Patricia held for over 40 years, was taken on by Linda Boardman in March 2019. 

On the Bragg company website they address this concern by stating:

“No, we do not use any coatings on apples used for ACV. There is only one way to produce Bragg raw, organic, unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar. We thrive on natural fermentation, so apples are never coated or altered. And that’s only possible with apples straight from the farm. Organic, fresh apples are the bedrock of our decades-old recipe and there is no changing that.”

When our team reached out to them directly to inquire further, asking, “Is your apple cider vinegar made with apples that use the Apeel coating?” we received a response stating:

“We do not use the apples that are coated with Apeel. The apples used for juicing for apple cider vinegar do not need to have an extended life. They are being taken straight from the farm to process. Bragg is committed to using apples that are raw, organic, and straight from the farm – that’s what helps create the “Mother” (a mixture of yeast and bacteria that results from the fermentation process) that we all know and love.”

After further research we were not able to discover the names of the farms that supply Bragg with their apples, only that “100% of its apples are sourced in the United States,” and a Facebook video post from Bragg showing love for the farmers that supply their apples:

“We count on organic, raw apples that are preservative and peel free. We don’t need our apples to look as pretty as these for long periods of time, rather we just need them straight from the farm, natural and untouched.”

Whether Bragg’s statement regarding the use of Apeel on their apples is to be taken at face value, is ultimately up to you—the consumer—to decide. Is there enough trust in the company with Patrica Bragg now gone? At this time, it seems customers are uncertain.

There has also been much talk about how their apple cider vinegar seems different; lighter in color, and without the signature “mother” on the bottom. Linda Boardman, new CEO of Bragg, responded:

“Because Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar is a live, unpasteurized and unfiltered product, color variation is expected. This variation can be attributed to the type of apples used, the season or the particular harvest, and the age of the living product within.”

~

Published on April 24, 2023

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