For the past few months, the Arctic apple has made headlines around the country for its ability to resist browning altogether. This characteristic seemed improbable for America's favorite fruit, which usually browns only minutes after being sliced, but scientists have proven it can be done. Because the apple is genetically modified, many people are starting to raise questions about the safety of this fruit and other GMO's we eat. So, we looked into what makes this apple special and how it could impact the future of food service.
Apples usually turn an unattractive color through enzymatic browning, which you cause by cutting or biting the fruit. Scientists have designed Arctic apples so they will resist enzymatic browning and keep their appetizing color and texture after being sliced.
How did scientists do it? Are Arctic apples safe to eat? Arctic apples are genetically modified fruits that combine the preferred genetics from other similar apple breeds. These apples grow just like any others, but they have been bred so certain genes will be dominant. Many GMO's have been altered through a similar process of cross-breeding to get a superior fruit or vegetable. Arctic apples are just the latest result of experiments like this, and they're still being reviewed by the government to determine if their safe for consumption.
If this fruit doesn't brown as quickly, isn't that a good thing for food service businesses? Yes and no.
Like most GMO's, Arctic apples are bred to be superior in flavor, texture, and appearance to similar varieties of apples. It's great that these apples don't brown as fast, so you don't have to worry about cutting up large amounts of fruit and watching it turn brown before your eyes. Think of your salad bars or self-serve stations at buffets where food sits in a chilled table for several hours. Apples are one of the first products to brown, and customers often avoid eating them if they look unappealing. Because Arctic apples always look as good as freshly-cut apples, customers will likely eat more of them and waste less food.
On the other hand, there are many people who dislike GMO's or are uncomfortable with the idea. In a grocery store, it will be easy to find Arctic apples versus other varieties because of obvious product labels, but it's not as easy in a restaurant or buffet where produce is rarely labeled by brand or variety. Freshness may also become an issue because Arctic apples don't brown over time like typical fruit. Because GMO's are a concern for some customers, the government may require food service businesses to start labeling all types of products they buy. That could lead to more label requirements on meats, eggs, dairy, and produce. Labeling foods may not sound like a big deal, but, for businesses who buy wholesale foods from distributors that don't provide information about whether or not their products are GMO's, this could pose a real challenge. If these apples hit the market in the future, these are some issues food service professionals will need to consider.
Arctic apples need to go through a process of approval by the FDA and the US government before we see them in grocery stores. As of now, the FDA has determined they are safe for consumption, but that's only the first step in a larger process of testing GMO's. There is the possibility that these apples won't be approved, but they've already been deemed safe by Health Canada, so seeing them in our grocery stores could happen sooner than we think. For now, only time will tell.