I recently read an article about how the “fresh” apples on sale in supermarkets today could have been picked a year ago. Even though I know that apple season starts in August and ends in October, apples are available in the supermarkets year-round. So how are the apples that we eat in April still fresh? I used to think that it was because we imported fruit from around the world where the growing season is opposite of ours. I was wrong. Apples are picked when they are slightly unripe, treated with a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene, also called SmartFresh, boxed, stacked on pallets, and kept in a cold storage warehouse for an average of 9-12 months.
What is SmartFresh?
1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) is a potent inhibitor of ethylene action and has been used for extending the shelf life and maintaining the quality of fresh products. Ethylene is a naturally occurring growth hormone that lives in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. 1-MCP blocks the effects of ethylene to dramatically slow the ripening process. This allows produce retailers to offer “fresh” produce out of season.
SmartFresh is the trade name for 1-MCP, a gas structurally similar to ethylene. Two professors at North Carolina State, Edward Sisler and Sylvia Blankenship, discovered its effect of ethylene in the early 1990’s and obtained a patent on its use as an inhibitor in 1996.
Are Apples Treated With SmartFresh Unhealthy?
The main issue with apples being treated with SmartFresh is the loss of nutrients. Apples are filled with antioxidants that can help fight cancer and improve post-workout recovery by reducing muscle fatigue. Yet antioxidant activity in apples gradually drops off after three months of storage in the cold. After a year, an apple will have almost no antioxidants remaining in it whatsoever. The less fresh they are, the less nutrients they have.
What About Organic Apples?
Apples that have been treated with 1-MCP do not underline any labeling regulations, are allowed for use with certified organic foods, and therefore not distinguishable from non-treated products.
Eat Seasonal, Locally Grown Produce
The best way to get the most nutrients form the food that we eat is to eat seasonal, locally grown produce. If you can’t grow your own food, buy your food form a local farmers’ market. Local farmers generally pick their produce when it is at its peak ripeness. This allows you to get the most nutrients from your food.