Literatus: Coated caution-A A +A
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
“T'S easy for Americans,” says former US Sen. Christopher Dodd, “to forget that the food they eat doesn’t magically appear on a supermarket shelf.” That may also be true for Filipinos.
While the use of shellac in pharmaceutical products may have ebbed in the last few decades, its use in food, particularly as a protective coating for fruits and vegetables, has not. Its use has the specific advantage of extending shelf life, which is critical in ensuring that they are sold before they start to get overripe.
The previous article (“Glaze of the lac bug”) noted that shellac is a natural form of plastic. On apples, for example, this “wax” coating increases the resistance of the skin from gaseous diffusion, particularly oxygen, which speeds up the ripening process.
It was mentioned in the same article that the autopsy of a cabinet maker, who died at age 55, showed a hardened mass of shellac in his stomach. It was not known how shellac got into his stomach without him having to drink the furniture finishing liquid he used in his work. Inhalation was an unconfirmed mode of intake.
The Andrus study in 1983 demonstrated how shellac, accumulated in the stomach, can cause bleeding or perforation in the stomach lining. The Food and Drug Research Laboratories reported in 1984 that rats fed with 13.2 grams per day for 90 days had enlarged cecum or swelling proximal colon (without cancerous changes). This swelling or enlargement can be an earlier stage before bleeding or perforation occurred.
Unlike the use of shellac as glaze in pharmaceutical products, its use as coating in fruits and vegetable implies less sophistication in the formulation of the coating solution itself. Farmers who transport their fruits and vegetables may use the same light blond shellac used in furniture finishing, which is generally considered not food-grade shellac.
In addition to that, shellac is not removed through water washing unlike carnauba wax.
Its use in fruits (e.g. apples, guavas, grapes, etc) and vegetables wherein the skin is normally eaten unpeeled can surely lead to shellac accumulation in the stomach.
Fruits such as oranges or bananas are relatively safer because their covering skins are normally thrown away, not eaten.
Because shellac resists gastrointestinal digestion, it is expected to stay in the tract unchanged, and so far has not been known how it is excreted, if at all it is. As of February 2012, the European Food Safety Authority, which classified shellac as Food Additive E904, had no information yet on its excretion mechanism.
Philip Larkin, author of The Less Deceived (1955), reminds, “Man hands on misery to man.” Food glazed with potential health problems can be one of these miseries. Be wiser as early as you can.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 20, 2013.