My mom is moving, and I’ve been looking for boxes to pack her stuff. So when my daughter and I spotted some sturdy apple boxes at our Fred Meyer grocery store, we nabbed them. They sat in the closed car for a few hours, and when I went back and opened the car door, I could barely breathe. My eyes burned and my lips started tingling and swelling up. What was going on?
I immediately put the boxes out on the porch, aired the car out, and researched what could be in those boxes to give me a reaction like that. I had heard about fruit being gassed to keep them fresh, so that led me to reading up on something called SmartFresh produced by AgroFresh. Its active ingredient is 1-methylcyclopropene ( 1-MCP). This is used on over 50% of the apples grown in the US today, and it can prolong their shelf-life for up to a year. So that nice Fuji apple we buy from the store in May is most likely many months old.
Description from the EPA site: 1-Methylcyclopropene is a gas under normal environmental conditions. As a pesticide active ingredient, it is used for prolonging the life of ornamental plants and cut flowers by preventing ethylene from attaching to plant tissues. It is a postharvest tool for counteracting undesirable effects of ethylene on harvested fruits and vegetables during transport and storage.
From the same site, assessing health risks: Based on studies with laboratory animals, no adverse effects are expected to humans who are exposed to end products that contain 1-MCP, although eye irritation may occur if a user does not follow label directions. 1-MCP as a gas is not toxic to test animals. Human exposure is expected to be minimal because 1-MCP is approved only for use indoors, and the product label instructs people to leave the treatment space during treatment.
But from Kelly Solutions, a site that connects the regulated community with state governments, there is a pdf file devoted to 1-MCP including cautions and hazards. Here is a sample: Causes slight eye irritation. Harmful if absorbed through skin. Harmful if inhaled. Harmful if swallowed. Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing. Avoid breathing vapor. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. Remove contaminated clothing and wash before reuse.
When I used to eat a lot of apples (before I realized my body couldn’t handle them), I had an irritation and redness around my mouth that my dermatologist couldn’t explain. I stopped eating apples about a year ago and the rash around my mouth disappeared. Now, after reading up on SmartFresh, it’s obvious that this chemical had been, at the very least, irritating my skin through contact with apples. And those boxes? Well, I’m assuming they came directly from storage where they had been doused with 1-methylcyclopropene. Though they say that 1-MCP dissipates in the open air, judging from my experience, the residue is strong enough to cause problems that are not being documented for consumer and worker protection.
And SmartFresh is not only applied to apples; in our desire for year-round availability, many other fruits and vegetables are treated with this questionable chemical that allows us to eat old food. Any way I look at it, that doesn’t sound very appealing. The solution is to eat fresh, unadulterated food that we grow ourselves or buy directly from our local farmers. But we have to be willing to forgo tomatoes in winter or apples all year long. Eating what’s in season makes sense and is amazingly delicious.