I've heard that you can get poisoning from cakes that contain orange zest from the preservative sprayed on the outer surface of oranges before transportation from tropical countries to our shops. Is this true? Can you wash these preservatives off with water or something else? Does baking make the compound less/more poisonous?

  • 1
    Hi, did you mean pesticide instead of preservative?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 17:28
  • @Sklivvz I think about a compound that delays the rotting of orange. Pls tell me the right word to use and I will correct my question. Thank you.
    – GaBorgulya
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 19:03
  • 1
    Preservative is correct.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 19:58
  • Oranges (citrus fruit in general) are sprayed with some waxlike substances including some preservatives which might be "not healthy", and smell (taste?) not good. What is allowed differs per country, Wikipedia tells about that. Whether "poisoning" is possible, depends a lot on definition of "poisoning". I'd avoid it. (Example: en.wiki lists Biphenyl as allowed preserve, de.wiki says biphenyl is no longer allowed in EU) Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 11:56
  • Not much related to the original question, but it would be interesting to know what substances and in what quantity are used to treat orange surface (like bananas are treated with Tiabendazole, this is written on each banana box) - this may be useful to know what you can give in the compost (you do not want too much of fungicide there).
    – Suma
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 8:39

2 Answers 2


Whether or not you can 'wash' off a pesticide/fungicide/preservative is a function of its water solubility.

In the cases of something which is water soluble, yes, a simple wash will suffice.

Carbofuran is water soluble, and its half-life in mature fruit was estimated at 4 days.

Methidathion is also water soluble:

Oranges sprayed with Supracide at a rate of nearly 2 pounds per acre had residues of the compound of about 0.1 ug/ml [81]. Within 2 days over 60% of the compound was removed from the outside of the fruit, and within 1 week, less than 1% of the compound remained

For other produce which might be treated with an insoluble chemical compound, you can try using a vinegar wash. This study on potatoes indicates that washing removes most compounds, as does peeling and food cooking/preparation.

Carbofuran is no longer permitted to be used on fruits in the US, nor be present on fruits imported to the US. It is also not permitted in the EU.

Of course, there is a very simple manner in which you can guarantee no pesticide/fungicide/preservative contamination of your food: buy organic.

Whenever I make cakes or pies which require lemon, lime or orange zest, I buy organic. Then I don't have to worry.

So, given the short half-lives of these compounds on the fruits, it would be difficult (albeit not entirely impossible if someone ate 10 crates of orange zest) to be poisoned by the residue left on the zest. The same follows for any wax compound: it's a matter of the amount sprayed (which is regulated differently by country) and the amount of time it's left on the fruit. Some waxes (beeswax) are natural products.

Edited to add:

The following waxes are commonly used in citrus handling:

The coatings used in this work were as follows: Britex 505 (Brogde Co., Pomona, CA); PacRite-StorRite 101, which contained polyethylene and shellac, and PacRite-SunShine, which contained shellac (American Machinery Corp.,Orlando, FL); Primafresh 30, which contained carnauba wax and shellac (Johnson Wax Co., Racine, Canada); Decco Lustr 202, which contained natural and synthetic waxes and fatty acids (ELF Atochem North America Inc., Munrovia, CA); and Natural Zivdar, which contained a carnauba wax emulsion,and Industrial Zivdar, which contained a polyethylene emulsion (Saif-Pac Ltd., Kfar-Saba, Israel)

Any coating with carnauba wax will not rinse off in water, nor will it wash off with vinegar. It is soluble in ether, but that's not a big help.

Any coating with shellac will not rinse off in water. You will need to use an baking soda (alkaline compound) to remove it.

The polyethylene emulsion will depend on the particular compound used.

  • Thanks, buying organic is a good suggestion! Though sometimes you only have the option of taking or refusing a cake (maybe this), or buying vs not buying it.
    – GaBorgulya
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 19:04
  • 2
    There are some stores/bakeries which will make/sell organic pastries, breads, etc. But in all honesty, the amount of rind present on an average cake/cupcake won't pose a significant risk if you eat one. Carnauba wax ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scf/out94_en.pdf isn't known to be toxic Shellac is much the same: inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v30je15.htm Most food waxes will contain one or both of those compounds; so I don't see a great risk in the wax itself - granted if they've added fungicides, etc - that's a different ball of wax. Pun intended.
    – Darwy
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 19:14
  • 4
    This don't answer the question, actually. While it talks about how to remove and how to evade preservatives, it doesn't exactly says if those preservatives can poison someone.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 11:00
  • Note that shellac would render the oranges unsuitable for vegetarians. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 1:05
  • 4
    I'd also dispute the "organic means no pesticides to worry about". Besides "organic" being a marketing term, it does not prohibit pesticides in the legal definitions. Rather, it restricts the list to particular pesticides, many of which require higher concentrations to work, which means you may be ingesting more pesticide than the "non-organic" produce. Maybe the better advice would be to only buy from growers you trust, but few of us who don't live in the country can afford to buy artisanal food like that. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 18:21

Orange zest itself is not poisonous. The rind has a lot of citrus oils in it, and intensifies the orange flavour a great deal. Hence, many recipes call for orange zest as an ingredient. As a matter of fact, it is a primary ingredient in orange marmalade. The white part of an orange peel (the pith) is very bitter, but not poisonous.

If you are going to use an orange to make some sort of zest, a very thorough washing and scrubbing would be in order. The Independent of the UK had an article talking about the rinds of oranges having a great deal of pesticide on them. And this would stand to reason since generally the rind is thrown away when most people consume oranges.

Checks by the Government Pesticides Residues Committee have found that every single orange examined was contaminated by pesticides.

Many of the chemicals found are suspected of causing cancer and "gender-bender effects", about half are banned for use in Britain, and more than a third were found at levels above European or British danger limits.

Two of the pesticides - Carbofuran and Methidathion, banned in Britain - are classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "highly hazardous".

As for the method of preservation, that varies widely by country, and even region. Some areas only use a wax which is safe according to the FDA (although may feel and taste gross if you eat it). As their web page indicates

Why are wax coatings used on fruits and vegetables? Many vegetables and fruits make their own natural waxy coating. After harvest, fresh produce may be washed to clean off dirt and soil - but such washing also removes the natural wax. Therefore, waxes are applied to some produce to replace the natural waxes that are lost.

Wax coatings help retain moisture to maintain quality from farm to table including:

  • when produce is shipped from farm to market
  • while it is in the stores and restaurants
  • once it is in the home

Waxes also help inhibit mold growth, protect produce from bruising, prevent other physical damage and disease, and enhance appearance.

How are waxes applied? Waxes are used only in tiny amounts to provide a microscopic coating surrounding the entire product. Each piece of waxed produce has only a drop or two of wax.

Coatings used on fruits and vegetables must meet FDA food additive regulations for safety. Produce shippers and supermarkets in the United States are required by federal law to label fresh fruits and vegetables that have been waxed so you will know whether the produce you buy is coated. Watch for signs that say: "Coated with food-grade vegetable-, petroleum-, beeswax-, or shellac- based wax or resin, to maintain freshness."

Otherwise you will have to get specific on the preservative you are concerned about. You have not provided enough information to answer the question fully.

I hope that helps.

  • 2
    The question is about the PRESERVATIVE put on the surface of the orange, not the zest itself, in other words THE COMPOUND THAT DELAYS THE ROTTING. You wrote that “a very thorough washing would be in order” – is that only personal opinion or can you provide evidence as well? (Many chemicals are not soluble in water.)
    – GaBorgulya
    Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 16:38
  • 1
    Okay, let me see if I can find something specifically on preservatives. Although, the processes work VERY DIFFERENTLY by country. So it would help. For instance, in some countries, only wax is used. And washing and scrubbing helps with the removal. I will add that in. Commented Apr 22, 2011 at 17:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .