Artificial Ripening of Fruits: Sellers react differently

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Some fruit sellers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have attributed various reasons for using artificial methods to ripen fruits and vegetables.

The traders fielded questions from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the risks of using harmful chemical substances to induce fruits to ripen.

They identified economic factors as the major reason for indulging in such acts without recourse to the health implications of using calcium carbide.

Mr Sumaila Ahmed, a fruit seller in Abuja, told NAN that he was aware of many methods of ripening fruits, but the urge to make quick money was a factor driving them into using chemicals.

However, he said that he never took part in such acts.

Ahmed said, for instance, that if fruits were allowed to ripen naturally they would start spoiling before reaching their final destinations for sale.

According to him, he said it is difficult to differentiate fruits that ripened naturally from the ones that were forced with chemicals.

“The only way to differentiate between the natural one and the forced one is by opening them.

“If you open the forced one, you will discover that inside the fruit is not ripe but if you open the natural one, it will be ripe in and out.

“They use carbide to ripen fruits like banana, plantain or mango. They usually rap the carbide with a cloth and put it in the middle of the particular fruit and in few minutes the fruits will turn ripe.

“Although there are other methods I do not remember and I am not aware of any health implications of using harsh methods to ripen fruits but I have a feeling that it must be dangerous to health,” he said.

Malam Salisu Mustapha said some fruit sellers use hot water method and other ways “but I usually buy near ripe fruits to avoid complains and rejection from customers’’.

Mustapha noted that buying near ripe fruits was better because they would start ripening gradually and naturally on their own.

“The hot water method is not difficult because a friend thought me years back, although I tried the method a few times and it worked but it was stressful.

“When you get a bucket of hot water then you start deepening the fruits inside the water little by little and in couple of minutes the result will show, the fruits starts changing from unripe to ripe,” he said.

On his part, Mr Saidu Sani, another fruits seller, said another healthy method was covering of fruits with wrapper or wrapping fruits inside a bag to hasten their ripening period.

Sani said that the prices of the fruits were the same no matter the method used in ripening them.

He added that the fruits that were ripened with harsh methods last longer than the ones that ripe naturally.

“If you cover fruits like orange, mango, banana, plantain, avocado, etc, with wrapper, it will ripen faster.

“I have tried this method and it worked, but I don’t know if it has any health implication. I think government should take up the responsibility of educating fruits sellers on the dangers of suing chemicals.

“Although we have been advised by NAFDAC to stop the act, but more enlightenment is required because this is a regular method used by a so many fruit sellers,” he said.

A medical practitioner in Kaduna, Dr Nuhu Yusuf, has advised farmers and traders to stop using Calcium carbide for ripening fruits, saying it has adverse health effects.

Yusuf said calcium carbide is a corrosive and dangerous chemical containing traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride as impurities.

“Mostly the fruits which are grown on orchards are sent to distant markets which sometimes take several days to reach in ordinary or refrigerated transportation.

“Usually, these fruits go through the ripening process in those markets before retailing. And for that, all that a trader has to do is to wrap a small quantity of Calcium Carbide in a packet of paper and keep this packet near a pile or box of fruits.
“Because of moisture content in the fruit, a chemical reaction takes place which releases heat and acetylene gas are produced, which rushes the ripening process.

“After which they are kept in ice for lowering the temperature and to develop the colour.

“However, fruits ripened with Calcium carbide are often soft and less tasty, and they also have a shorter storage life,’’ he said.

He listed early symptoms of arsenic and phosphorus poisoning to include diarrhoea (with or without blood), vomiting, thirst, weakness, burning sensation in abdomen and chest, difficulty in swallowing, irritation/burning sensation in eyes/skin, soar throat, cough, shortness in breathing and ulcer on skin.

He said consumption of fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide causes stomach upsets as the alkaline substance erodes the mucosal issues of the stomach and disrupts intestinal functions.

“It may affect neorological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia, i.e. low oxygen reaching the blood and tissues which causes headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, mental confusion, memory loss, cerebral oedema (swelling in the brain caused by excessive fluids), sleepiness and seizure, etc. Calcium carbide is known to have carcinogenic properties also,’’ said Yusuf.

According to him, naturally ripened fruits are attractive, but not uniformly coloured; weight per fruit good, aroma good; firmness fair, taste sweet, pleasant and shelf life longer.

“But fruits artificially ripened by calcium carbide are not very attractive, but uniformly coloured; weight per fruit fair; aroma mildly good; firmness fair; taste inner core sour, mildly pleasant; shelf life short, black blotches appear on the skin of the fruit in two to three days,’’ he said.

He therefore advised consumers not to buy fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide because of their inherent health dangers.

He added that washing the fruits thoroughly for few minutes under running potable water to remove the chemical particles from its surface will help reduce its harmfulness.

“The fruits like mangoes and apple should preferably be cut into pieces before consumption instead of eating the same directly. As far as possible, the fruits should be peeled off before consumption,’’ Yusuf recommended.

Mrs Rebecca Musa, a consumer, said some customers are ignorant of such practices by fruits sellers since they cannot differentiate between artificial and natural ripening.

She noted that some fruit traders were using chemicals to speed up the ripening process so that they can cash-in immediately.

Mr Bala Usama, an environmentalist, suggested for a ban on or restriction of the procurement and selling of these chemicals to to curb the menace.

He also called for enlightenment of fruit traders and farmers on the health hazards and imbued with a sense of moral responsibility to the society.

He added that vigilance at the wholesale markets should be strengthened to stop the practice.
Malam Shuaibu Dembo, another consumer, advised governments to ban the use of artificial ripening for fruits.

“If the Government can ban using artificial ripening for fruits, the fruit traders will not use them and it will safeguard our health.’’

He said it was obvious that the practice of using calcium carbide was an unnatural practice, and when government is disapproving, the dealers cannot continue with this unhealthy practice.

And from Zamfara, a medical doctor with Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Gusau, Dr Manir Bukkuyum, told NAN that ripening of fruits chemically has harmful effects on the liver and other parts of the body.

Bukkuyum said that artificial fruits ripening using calcium carbide has high health risks potential because of carcinogen, a cancer producing chemical, irrespective of what quantity consume.

“It also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride which produces several acute and chronic health effects.

“The early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus poisoning include vomiting, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, diarrhoea, thirst, weakness, difficulty in swallowing,’’ he emphasised.

He said the chemical also results in irritation or burning of the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers, irritation in the mouth, nose and throat.

He further said cough, wheezing and shortness of breath may also occur soon after exposure to the chemical.

“Eating artificially ripened mangoes causes stomach upset because the alkaline substance is irritant that erodes the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts intestinal function. Prolonged exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcer.’’

A fruits dealer in Gusau, Malam Sambo Adamu, said fruits nowadays were mostly ripened artificially to meet up the demand of consumers.

Adamu said fruits usually got damaged in the cost of transportation when ripe right from the tree which resulted to losses by the sellers.

He said the fruits which were grown on orchards were sent to distant markets which sometimes take several days to reach in ordinary transportation, adding these fruits go through the ripening process in those markets before retailing.

“And for that, all that a trader has to do is to wrap a small quantity of Calcium Carbide in a packet of paper and keep this packet near a pile or box of fruits.

“Because of moisture content in the fruit, a chemical reaction takes place which releases heat and acetylene gas are produced, which rushes the ripening process,’’ the trader said.

The Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Health, Dr Habib Yalwa, said the consequence of artificial ripening of fruits to human health was a source of concern to all.

Yalwa said most of the diseases caused by the ripening chemical were deadly, including cancer, liver damage and ulcers.

“We are at a greater risk of short-term as well as long-term health effects simply by eating artificially ripened fruits,” the permanent secretary said.

According to him, another agent which is used to artificially ripen fruits is Ethephon and considered better in terms of health effects.
He disclosed that plans are underway to establish coordination with ministry of agriculture in fighting the menace.
A consumer, Mr Aminu Abdullahi, fruits ripened with Calcium carbide were soft and less tasty, and they also have a shorter storage life. (NAN)

Biola Lawal

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