Another reason to buy local produce in season

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.

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12 Responses to Another reason to buy local produce in season

  1. Janet Black says:

    Hi Lorraine,
    Please tell me they aren’t putting this crap on organic apples!!! P-l-e-a-s-e…

  2. lorrainemt says:

    Well, I couldn’t document it other than a Wikipedia article that mentions that Whole Foods uses apples gassed with SmartFresh. Also, in 2006, AgroFresh was interested in getting into the organic market, but I couldn’t find if they succeeded. Also, all the apples that I ate were organic and they definitely irritated my skin. So there you have it. Sorry. Just the fact that we don’t know for sure is not okay. We should at least be able to have the information to make these choices.

    • Janet Black says:

      Heavy, heavy sigh…:'(

      • lorrainemt says:

        I think asking the store directly might be helpful. I would hope they could tell you for sure if the apples have only been in cold storage or if they’ve been gassed. If you do ask, I’d be interested to know what you find out. Good luck!

    • Cadee says:

      Thanks for your informative article. I’ve just recently discovered about 1-MCP treatment of apples, with very little success. I’ve been mystified for the last several years with organic apples that had strange synthetic perfume scent. My enquiry with the Whole Foods Market yielded no answers, except the apples were not waxed. I’ve just spent the whole morning talking to USDA organic department, along organic certifiers in Washington. What I’ve learned is that this chemical is not found as one of the permitted synthetic chemicals. But I was told by USDA, there are ways to bypass the organic guidelines if it is not directly applied, but possibly if the box is lined with film that absorbs the gas, while it is pumped into it. When I spoke to the certifier, same dubious answer. The chemical is not listed for organic produce; but if it was used in a roundabout way, he cannot reveal because of some confidentiality agreement. Okay, that is really reassuring. I’m losing all my confidence, even in organic labeled produce. To think, there is a confidentiality agreement to keep the consumers in the dark. After all, law requires ingredients are listed clearly on boxes of food products to protect consumers, while apples that have absorbed synthetic chemicals should be kept secret to protect the profiteers. And don’t tell me the chemical leaves no residue. I’ve been smelling this strange synthetic perfume on my organic apples for the last several years, deeply embedded in the flesh even after it’s been peeled. I am so disappointed and depressed.

      • lorrainemt says:

        Wow, there is so much we as consumers are not aware of. Good for you for asking directly about this chemical. It can be discouraging to find out how little we know, but the the best we can do is to keep pushing grocers to label all chemicals in use. And of course, buying local produce as often as we can! Thanks for sharing your research with me..

        • Cadee says:

          I filed a few complaints regarding contamination of organic fruits. This season, I’ve actually stopped eating all fruits from WFM as well as my small local organic grocer. They all smelled and tasted of this strong synthetic scent. WSDA responded to my complaint by saying 1-MCP was impossible to test for due to its short half life. I am absolutely sure there is a way where there is a will. And think how tempting this treatment is for organic packers since it’d be virtually impossible to prove. It is a terrible shame. And you’re right. I did join a local organic farm. I couldn’t even buy a vegetable from WFM that wasn’t tainted with the same odor. And of course it’s more difficult to find organic fruit in the east coast. But necessity is the father of invention, they say. I may purchase a large bushel from organic orchard in season then can or freeze them. Through my research, I’ve learned the exorbitant amount of post-harvest material that is allowed within the organic standard. And even more disturbing, the certifiers, even the WSDA which is a governmental agency, is paid by the farmers; the payment tantamount to the profit. Meaning, the more successful large operation yields more financial benefit for the certifiers. This fact is disheartening since it is not in certifier’s interest to expose untoward practices by the farmers. And my experience affirms my suspicion. They’re not all that eager to pursue your complaints. And for the amount certifiers are paid for each certification, very little is done to oversee the operation. Just think how much can pass unnoticed through the organic standard.

  3. Nourishing Words says:

    That is really scary and a great illustration of the power of those chemicals. Apples are a good thing to buy organic!

  4. lorrainemt says:

    I’m so hoping AgroFresh doesn’t get to apply this to organics. It is scary what gets passed through the FDA before thorough testing. Thanks so much for coming by!

  5. Tammy says:

    I have seen the “ripening rooms” at the distribution centers. Usually they’re used for bananas and avocados but I’m sure many things take their turn in there. That IS another argument for eating what grows at the farm down the way.

  6. lorrainemt says:

    I wonder if it’s the same process for ripening bananas as it is for retarding over ripening in apples. Either way, I agree with you–I’d much rather buy from my local organic farmer. Although growing bananas in Oregon is unlikely. 😉

  7. skthomas09 says:

    Ah yes, I remember those boxes….but eek.

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