Treated with LILs, NILs, ZOLEs

Grubbin' Is that the way it is? The Diary of Lupin Pooter
Empty bag of M&S Seedless Extra Large Oranges from Spain.
Empty bag of M&S Seedless Extra Large Oranges from Spain.

Another post about oranges. Last time, I wrote about Cara Cara oranges. This time, we’re talking about a different cultivar, the Midknight Valencia Orange. The bag shown in the photo above originally contained four big oranges and was purchased at great cost (HK$ 65 or roughly US$ 8) from a Hong Kong Marks & Spencer food store on Hong Kong Island.

Detail of the labels on the front of the bag.
Detail of the labels on the front of the bag.

I’d like to draw your attention to the text printed on the large rectangular white patch of plastic at lower-right in the preceding (close-up) photo. It starts with Refrigerate for freshness., features an indecipherable-to-me alphanumeric string which I suppose may be a production code from the packhouse or perhaps from the citrus farm in Spain where the oranges were grown, some other information (like the promised size range of the oranges in the bags), and concludes with the following:

TREATED WITH: Imazalil, Fludioxonil,
Thiabendazole, E-202, And Wax E-903

Imazalil (aka Enilconazole) is a fungicide considered likely to be carcinogenic in humans, Fludioxonil is a fungicide which may possess a capacity to disrupt hepatic, endocrine and neurological systems, Thiabendazole aka Tiabendazole is an anti-fungal and antihelminthic (anti-worm) drug that seems relatively benign for people in the quantities likely to be inadvertently ingested through occasional skin contact with citrus peels, E-202 is the preservative potassium sorbate and is likely being used for its antifungal properties, and E-903 is carnauba wax (used on everything from paper products to M&Ms). I’m confident that the Cara Cara oranges from Sunkist were thoroughly soaked in the same or similar pesticides but for one reason or another specific disclosures weren’t required of or undertaken by Sunkist.

Citrus peels (zest and candied peels, which are supposed to be prepared from unwaxed citrus, excepted) generally aren’t eaten. If we keep our fingers crossed and hope that the anti-fungal agents remain confined to the exterior of the rind of a citrus fruit and that none of them or their hypothetical degradation products diffuse inwards through the white pith and into the flesh, the only concern would be some degree of incidental contamination via physical transfer from fragments of peel to stubbornly-clinging sections of pith and the outer surface of the fruit’s flesh during the course of manual peeling.

For fruits whose peels we do generally consume along with their flesh (like apples, pears, plums, etc.), it’s more difficult to hand-wave away the pesticides issue. Credible-seeming advice for reducing the levels of these substances entails soaking and vigorous scrubbing in a water-and-baking-soda mixture and (if possible) the use of an ultrasonic cleaner. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any readily-available consumer test kits for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables so it would seem difficult to evaluate the efficacy of this sort of procedure.

If my citrus fruit absolutely must be waxed, carnauba wax is preferable to tree resin or lac resin (from insects). On the other hand, given a choice, I would opt for pure, naturally-produced, and lovingly-gathered and processed beeswax over carnauba wax.