The purpose of this article is to discuss the potential of wax and wax coatings as a means to preserving and increasing the shelf life of both food products and fresh produces. Various aspects will be discussed, along with very useful and important dos and don’ts of using wax to preserve food.
Coating food with wax has been a popular method to preserve food since at least the late 12th and early 13th century. Of course, the process has become more sophisticated as the technologies have developed; however, there are some basic principles that have stayed the same since then.
Before we go into the specifics, it is important to understand why wax might be used out of all the other available ingredients. As well as what makes it useful in preserving food.
The most widely used type of wax is petroleum-based, artificial wax. This is precisely the main reason why wax may be used to extend shelf life, petroleum is hydrophobic (water repellent) which means that a petroleum-based wax coating will help prevent loss of water in food. This, in turn, will prevent the shrinkage of fruits and vegetables and extend their shelf life.
Food-grade wax coatings are widely used in all sorts of foods, mainly in fruits and vegetables such as apples and cucumbers. The process is quite elaborate and technical; however, it is not a particularly hard process to learn. There are many instructional videos online but you might want to check the one above. It is advised that fungicide and dye is applied along with the wax in order to effectively keep the food safe and extend the shelf life; however, there are a few things to take into account when deciding on a waxing process.
First of all you should be aware of the three main types of wax.
- Pack out wax: For food destined for immediate consumption.
- Storage wax: For foods intended to be stored for a long time.
- High shine wax: This one is not really used for preservation, it is to give the food an extra shine.
As mentioned earlier, the most commonly used type of wax is petroleum-based but there are some other kinds available, such as:
- Sugarcane wax.
- Paraffin Wax.
Wax is mainly used to increase the shelf life of fruits but it can also be used to increase the shelf life of the right kinds of MREs. It is a matter of knowing what you want.
Using Wax to Preserve Fresh Produce
As we mentioned, wax is mostly used on fresh fruit and vegetables. Most commercial producers wax their products and add bactericides, fungicides and many other preservatives in order to keep the food in good condition for as long as possible.
There are two main reasons for using wax as a preserving agent. First, wax will keep the moisture in and most of the oxygen out, which will slow down the ripening process; second, it eliminates the need for non-biodegradable packaging.
There is only one issue with waxing fresh produce and that is that it is not as effective as other preserving methods. While it is true that waxing slows down the ripening process, it does not stall it for long enough to be considered apt for long-term storage.
There is another major disadvantage to using wax to preserve vegetables and that is that it may compromise the overall quality of the food when applied to excess. There are documented cases where the overuse of wax set off a chain of chemical reactions on the surface of the food which posed a health threat to all who consumed it. This is why you should always check for wax if you do not produce your own fruits. Identifying whether or not wax was used is very simple, just rub it gently, if a thin, white layer comes off then you will know that it has been treated with wax and you should clean it before consuming it.
Here are a few tips on how to clean waxed fruits:
- Washing with lukewarm water. Just use water, detergent, even food grade, may do more harm than good.
- Wash the fruit and vegetables with vinegar. Since it contains acetic acid it is very efficient in removing the wax coating. You can also use vinegar strips to wipe them down just before eating if you do not want to remove the wax coating from everything at once.
- If you want to be really thorough then wash your fruit and then remove the peal to insure that you do not ingest any wax.
Using Wax for Jam and Jelly
For many years paraffin has been used to seal the top of jam and jelly jars, it formed a physical seal that kept air out and prevented mold from growing. The method became less popular with the advent of canning; however, the method is still good if you want to do it the old-fashioned way.
Usually, melted paraffin wax would be poured over the hot jelly before sealing the jar. These days wax is more widely used, on account that the wax is lighter and it stays on top. As the jelly and the wax cool, it forms a seal that keeps water and air out.
Canning is the better option for extending the shelf life of products for years but if you are not looking for shorter-term packaging or if you do not know how to can and would like to have some things ready while you learn to can.
The process of adding a wax seal is quite simple, you just need to proceed as usual with the making of your jam or jelly and then, instead of adding the lid and water-bathing it, you pour a quarter inch of melted wax over the hot jelly and stir until it covered the top. When it cools, the wax seal will have formed and you will be able to close it with the lid.
Using Wax for Cheese
This is possibly the most successful application of wax with the goal of preserving food and considering that after TSHTF cheese will be a luxury item this is a valuable preservation method.
Before going on to describe how to wax cheese, you should know that the government generally warns against eating any kind of dairy product that has not been refrigerated due to the risk of contracting botulism. While it is a valid concern, there have been no reported instances of botulism where cheese was the cause.
Waxing cheese will preserve it for many years while also allowing it to age and develop flavor. It also means that the cheese will not need refrigeration, making it perfect for a post-SHTF scenario.
Soft cheeses are not good for waxing because of their high moisture content. Moisture means that there is a much higher chance of mold developing and spoiling the cheese. This is why it is better to choose hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, Parmesan or alike. If you have doubts of whether or not you can wax a certain cheese, all you need to do is make sure that it has 40% or less moisture content.
Remember that the cheese will age so it will not be the same cheese you started with.
To wax your cheese you will need to get cheese wax, paraffin and other types are not pliable enough or do not get hot enough to kill the bacteria (which is another advantage of waxing cheese), using cheese wax will also allow you to reuse it after you strain it, and it dries much faster than paraffin, giving bacteria less time to reach the cheese.
Here are the basic steps to waxing cheese:
- Dry your cheese. After pressing, lay a clean piece of cheesecloth over the top of your formed cheese and allow it to dry for a few days in a room with good air circulation and low temperature.
- Clean the cheese with a brine wash to remove mold, then allow it to dry for 1 or 2 hours.
- Heat and melt the wax. The heat will depend on whether you want to dip the cheese or paint on the wax, each process has its pros and cons. To paint it on you will need lower heat, create a double broiler by placing wax in a metal bowl and submerging it in a pot with water. Heat it up to 198-204°F. If you prefer the dipping method —which is a little more dangerous but will definitely kill all the bacteria— then place the wax in a pot and heat it directly on the stove top to 224-236°F. Be careful of wax at high temperatures since it has been known to explode.
Now that the wax is hot enough you may begin the waxing process. You will need to be extremely careful with this method. Firs make sure you have a good grip on the cheese and then quickly dip it into the wax, let it cool and then repeat. Do the same with the other side, then dip half of the cheese’s edge in, let cool and repeat so that you can move on to waxing the remaining half, which is the same process.
Lay an aluminum foil surface to catch the drops. Using a natural bristles brush apply the melted wax. Start with the top surface and sides, allow that to harden and then do the bottom part. You will need to work quickly and make sure to use plenty of wax. Repeat the process at least twice more.
Should I be Using Wax?
As we have seen so far, the use of wax depends on what you want to achieve, since it is quite an old-fashioned process it fails to deal with more modern problems or has been surpassed by modern technologies.
In the case of fruit and vegetables it is a good idea to wax them if you are looking down the barrel of a dry season of alike but will have access to fresh fruits at some point in the future. Waxing fruits and vegetables is not a great idea for long-term storage so if that is your purpose you should look into different methods.
In the case of jams and jellies is a slightly different matter. Creating a wax seal will definitely keep the bugs out and the bacteria from forming, it is cheaper and more effective than canning since you will not need to actually learn how to can, and sealing with wax is very simple. Jams and jellies are already meant to last for a while and adding a wax seal will definitely make them last longer. Using a wax seal is more appropriate for medium-term planning.
Cheese, however, will keep great in wax, extending the shelf life of it for years without it ever needing refrigeration (though you can refrigerate it if you want to stall the aging process). The waxing process is simple and effective. Cheese will be a luxury item after TEOTWAWKI and as such, its barter value will be through the roof. Not to mention that you will be one of the few people still able to enjoy some old-fashioned mac n’ cheese.
In short, in terms of effectively extending the shelf life of foodstuffs, wax does not really go a long way, especially in the case of fruit and vegetables. Looking into different options is the best idea. That said, in the case of cheese it has proven to be a perfect way of extending the shelf life and it does not require refrigeration, which makes it useful.
All in all, wax has been supplanted by more modern and perhaps better methods of storing. If you want to play it safe you will only use wax for cheese and for jams —remember wax only slightly increases the shelf life of jams and jellies so you may want to rotate them to ensure future access.
The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken for or be a substitute for professional advice. Always consult your physician and/or nutritionist before trying any of the advice presented on this page. Neither the author nor www.SurvivalSullivan.com or the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article. If you feel sick after consuming food that has been waxed, call 911 immediately.