Warning: This article may be coated with food grade beeswax. Have you ever been shopping and noticed that warning besides your apples or plums? Food grade beeswax is a common tactic used by food manufacturers to help enhance the look of fruit and prolong shelf life – but is food grade beeswax safe for us? Here’s all you need to know about food grade beeswax.
What Is Food Grade Beeswax Used For?
Food grade beeswax is used as a glazing agents on food products including fruits (usually fresh citrus, melons, apples, pears, peaches, and pineapples) (2). It’s also used as a carrier of flavors (flavor enhancer mostly in water-based food flavorings), soft gel capsules in pills, confectionery (excluding chocolate), small products of fine bakery wares coated with chocolate, snacks, nuts, and coffee beans (2). Food grade beeswax is also used as an additive to enhance the chewiness of chewing gum (3).
What Exactly Is In Food Grade Beeswax?
Without getting too technical, beeswax itself is a mixture of saturated and unsaturated linear monoesters, hydrocarbons, free fatty acids, free fatty alcohols, and other minor substances, produced by the worker honeybee (2). Until it’s processed for human consumption…
Types Of Food Grade Beeswax On Your Food
There are a few different types of beeswax used in food coatings. To really find out what type of beeswax is on your food, you will have to probably talk to your grocer, or even fruit supplier.
Yellow Beeswax: Yellow beeswax is a natural wax taken from melting the walls of the honeycomb made by the honey bee by either draining and filtering or centrifuging. The wax is then melted with steam or hot water and activated carbon and/or diatomaceous earth, and aluminum or magnesium silicates can be added to extract impurities to refine the wax (2,3).
White Beeswax: White beeswax is obtained from the honeycomb in the same way as yellow beeswax, however it’s then bleached for a more, pure white/clear type color. Mmm. Bleach. Tasty, eh? The bleaching process is done by using peroxides, sunlight (the best way), or bleaching earth (2). When beeswax is bleached with peroxides, activated carbon is added to remove peroxo chemicals from the beeswax (3).
Is Beeswax Harmful For You In Foods?
Not likely – this is of course according to the FDA. Beeswax in pure form shouldn’t do any harm, however, any impurities in beeswax such as wax that has any pollen or oleoresins could be allergenic to individuals with sensitivities to those substances (1). In Europe, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission (SCF), looked at acute toxicity studies, dermal toxicity studies in rats and rabbits, and local implantation results in the cervix of mice. Their conclusion: the small amounts of toxicological data/research out there isn’t enough to establish full safety of food grade beeswax but said it wasn’t enough to stop using it as a glazing agent on foods either (2).
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) re-evaluated beeswax at
its 65th meeting and also concluded….that they couldn’t reach a conclusion on whether or not food grade beeswax could cause allergies (2). So, the choice is yours. It’s also theorized that waxes in general, including beeswax are not absorbed or digested to any significant extent in mammals. However, limited information on beeswax is available (4). A committee evaluating the safety of beeswax in food that consisted of the Canadian CanTox Health Sciences, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Public Health and The Environment in the Netherlands all concluded that at current levels in foods, beeswax would not result in any dietary exposure that would raise concern about safety (4).
It would sound as if food grade beeswax isn’t that big of a deal – just add it to the list of chemicals that we get in small doses every day.
Before You Go…
Honey bees consume about eight times as much honey by mass and fly about 150,000 miles to produce one pound of beeswax.
Have you ever had issues with foods coated with food grade beeswax? Leave a comment.
1. N.a. Select Committee on GRAS (Generaly Recognized as Safe) Substances Opinion: Beeswax (yellow or white). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 18 April 2013. Web. 9 February 2014.
2. N.a. “Beeswax (E 901) As A Glazing Agent ad As A Carrier For Flavours.” Scientific Opinion Of The Panel On Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials In Contact With Food (AFC). European Food Safety Authority Journal. 27 November 2007. Pages 1-28. Web. 9 February 2015.
3. Kuznesof, P., Whitehouse, B. “Beeswax: Chemical and Technical Assessment.” Chemical and Technical Assessment 65th JECFA. Web. 10 February 2015.
4. DiNovi, M., Knaap, A., Kuznesof, P., Munro, C. “Beeswax.” 10 February 2015.