Beth Buczynski

The Dirty Truth Behind Pear Packaging - and Why You Should Always Buy Organic

by , 03/11/14
filed under: News, Sustainable Food

fresh pears, wrapped pears, pears wrapped in tissue, pears wrapped in paper, toxic chemicals, chemical preservatives, organic pears, local food, fresh produce, reducing food waste

In the age of 24-hour supermarkets and strawberries in December, we’ve become disconnected from the reality of food. Grocery store shelves are always stocked, so we rarely stop to think about where food came from, how it was grown, and why it’s packaged the way it is. Take pears, for instance. They’re often wrapped in bits of tissue paper, but have you ever asked why? A recent investigation by Fast Co. Design revealed the complicated world of pear packing and shipping. After learning the truth about this paper packaging, you’ll want to avoid anything but organically grown pears in the future.

fresh pears, wrapped pears, pears wrapped in tissue, pears wrapped in paper, toxic chemicals, chemical preservatives, organic pears, local food, fresh produce, reducing food waste

The long, strange story of why pears are packed in tissue paper starts with the delicate nature of the fruit itself. Pears have very thin skin coupled with long, stiff stems. Without careful packaging, pears collide during transit, stabbing and bruising each other in unattractive ways. “Pears are also vulnerable to an oxidation-driven condition called superficial scald, which is that brown, rust-like staining that you’ve probably seen,” writes Paul Lukas for Fast Co. They’re also particularly susceptible to fungal pathogens and mold, which tend to spread quickly through a case of pears jumbled together in close proximity.

Related: America’s Oldest Pear Tree Still Bearing Fruit at 363 Years

So, in the interest of making a profit, pear growers figured out that a little packaging can go a long way toward protecting their wares. Back in the early 1900s, pear packers started wrapping the fruit in paper treated with food-grade oil. The oil slowed oxidation and reduced the chance for that nasty brown bruising (called superficial scald). But of course, as the chemical industry continued to grow, food-grade oil was soon replaced with something more controversial.

Now, that innocent looking paper wrapping contains a Monsanto-created pesticide called ethoxyquin, as well as copper, which helps stop the spread of gray mold. Although screened and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it’s worth noting that ethoxyquin is banned for use in the European Union or Australia.

This leads us to a strange conflict of interest. On one hand, food waste is out of control in developed countries. Supermarkets throw away staggering amounts of edible food simply because it’s not “attractive.” So any way to keep pears looking svelte until purchase time ensures that they’re eaten instead of trashed. On the other hand, there’s the health of the pear packers themselves. They’re almost always women (because their hands are smaller), and they come into direct contact with this chemical-laden paper every day. All because we’re afraid of a few bruises on our fruit.

Grossed out by this strange tale? The only way to avoid pesticide and metal on your pears in to buy organic.

+ Fast Company

Images via johannrela, ginnerobot, wolfgrams

Related: Packaging Made From Tomato Plants Yields Safer Canned Food

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6 Comments

  1. farmfarm March 25, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    I don’t believe Canadian Organic Regulations allow for copper fungicides.

  2. farmfarm March 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    I don’t believe that Canadian organic regulations allow for the use of copper as a fungicide.

  3. farmfarm March 25, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Actually since 2002, organic pears and organic apples of certain varieties have been sprayed with two types of antibiotics to prevent fire blight. Here is the list of varieties that may be sprayed if susceptible:

    http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Summer2011/antibiotics-fruit.pdf

    The Organic Consumer Association has been trying to make people aware of this by the way, as producers want
    an extension to the ban on this practice which is supposed to begin in October of 2014. I just found the petition here to ban the use of antibiotics on organic pears and apples:

    http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=9888

  4. OscarsSox March 12, 2014 at 11:48 am

    \”The only way to avoid pesticide and metal on your pears in to buy organic.\” Please keep in mind that copper is used as an organic fungicide. You will not avoid it by buying organic.

  5. Wally March 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Interesting article. I didn’t realize that the scope of being “organic” also included the packaging.

  6. laura s. March 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    We are virtually stuck in a world that is filled with harmful material. I did not know anything about the pear packaging, but it comes as no surprise. So you are basically eating pesticides with some added copper. Great.
    Eat meat filled with antibiotics, fruits filled with pesticides, and live in a polluted world.
    Add some asbestos and lead from your old house, which needs desperate remodelling, and you know where are you heading.

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