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DANGERS OF ARTIFICIAL RIPENING OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

  • Fruits are a good source of vitamins and minerals and play an important role in preventing Vitamin C and A deficiencies.
  • WHO recommends 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day for a healthy living.
  • However, the health benefits of fruits depend on how they are ripened.
  • The best course will be to allow them to ripen on the plant itself.
  • The fruits become soft, change in colour and develop aroma with an increase in sugar level and reduction in acid content.
  • Many factors influence the process of ripening including temperature and relative humidity.
  • It is not always possible to wait for the fruit to ripen naturally.
  • More often than not, they need to be transported over long distances.
  • If they had been harvested in a ripe stage, they get spoilt before reaching their destination.
  • For such situations, farmers harvest them much before they get ripe.
  • The traders then ripen them artificially at the destination using certain chemicals.
  • Most fruits produce a gaseous compound called ‘ethylene’ that starts the ripening process.
  • Its level in under-ripe fruit is very low, but as the fruits develop, they produce larger amounts of the chemical that speeds up the ripening process.
  • These enzymes convert complex polysaccharides into simple sugars and make the skin of the fruits soft.
  • In artificial ripening, this process is mimicked using chemicals.
  • The most commonly used chemical is called ‘ethephon’ (2-chloroethyl phosphonic acid).
  • It penetrates into the fruit and decomposes ethylene.
  • Another chemical that is regularly used is ‘Calcium carbide’, which produces ‘acetylene’, which is an analogue of ‘ethylene’.
  • It is, however, fraught with several problems.
  • Studies have shown that it breaks down the organic composition of vitamins and other micronutrients.
  • Besides, it changes only the skin colour, the fruit remains raw inside.
  • Industrial grade calcium carbide is often found contaminated with traces of arsenic and phosphorus which are toxic chemicals.
  • The symptoms of arsenic and phosphorous poisoning include,
     

1) Vomiting, diarrhoea with/without blood, weakness, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, eye damage, ulcers.

  • According to studies, Calcium carbide can also affect the neurological system.
  • FSSAI has banned calcium carbide under the “Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954”.
  • To distinguish the artificially ripened fruit,

2) They will have uniform skin colour in fruits like tomato, mango, papaya, and in the case of banana,

3) The fruit will be yellow while the stem will be dark green.

4) If the fruits are available before season, it could mean they are artificially ripened.

  • Washing and peeling the fruits before eating can minimise the risks of calcium carbide.
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September 2022
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