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How Artificial Ripening Methods Are Making Our Food A Health Hazard

Fruits and vegetables are known to be possessing antioxidant and anti-aging factors. However, if the food industry is allowing a source of harmful chemicals into these foods, are we not heading towards something else other than healthy?

Fresh colourful fruits and vegetables are a beautiful sight, commonly seen in this season of the year. Health consultants highly recommend fruits and salads in their prescriptions and we take the best advantage of the availability of the range of variety in the markets. But between genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides and ripening agents, how have we let our foods get so far from their natural state?

The mango trade is fraught with health hazards due to the get-rich-quick schemes of vendors who artificially ripen the fruit using a harmful chemical. Calcium carbide, used to ripen mangoes, is extremely hazardous and can have short-term as well as long-term health effects, said S. Krishna, the Chennai Corporation’s additional health officer.

For many years, ethylene had been used as a fruit ripening agent, but nowadays ethane, calcium carbide and ethephon are commonly used for faster ripening. But inappropriate use of these chemicals to ripen fruits is associated with many health hazards.

“Calcium carbide contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus. Once dissolved in water, it produces acetylene gas that affects the neurological system resulting in headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, sleepiness, mental confusion and seizures on a short-term basis, while it can in the long term cause memory loss and cerebral oedema.”

“Propelled by the quick-buck syndrome, vendors who wish to avoid the 3-4 days’ wait for the normal method of mango-ripening with hay, use the harmful chemical instead. The chemical gives the fruit a misleading ripe, healthy look,” said A. Karmegam, a Chennai trader who buys fruit from all over India.

Ill-Effects of Artificial Ripening

- Ethylene is known to cause damage to the neurological system, affects the eyes, skin, lungs, memory and leads to prolonged hypoxia (lack of oxygen supply).

- Ethephon is a plant growth regulator. It promotes pre-harvest ripening in apples, currants, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, morello cherries, citrus fruit, figs, tomatoes, sugar beet and fodder beet seed crops, coffee, capsicum. Ethephon is easily converted into ethylene and has the same harmful effects.
State Food and Drugs Control Administration (FDCA) has banned the use of ethephon last year, but fruit traders have now resorted to bethylene.

- Bethylene is not known to have any harmful effects but it alters the taste and the nutritional value of fruits and also reduces the shelf life of the fruits, if used beyond the recommended limits. And most of the traders do use quantities of bethylene which are much higher than the prescribed limits.

- Besides ripening agents, farmers also use many pesticides to grow fruits and vegetables which are detrimental to our health.
Take care

- Wash your fruits and vegetables in a sink full of water in which a tablespoon of salt is added with a lime squeezed in it. Allow the fruits to float in the sink for 5-7 minutes before rinsing them with plain water and then draining them in a colander. Allow to dry and then consume.

- While selecting fruits, look for nail marks, punctures or powdered applications on the fruits. Do not pick fruits with any of the above signs.

According to the food inspectors, fruits that are ripened prematurely could be identified from the lack of natural smell and the colour of the skin.



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