Food and health security must be the top most priority of any Government towards its citizens. However, even today, it has been found that fruit and vegetable vendors in most countries uses chemicals to ripen up the fruits and vegetables. Although ripening through usage of chemicals is banned in several countries, India still continues to use it freely. Also, by eating chemically ripened fruits and vegetables, we are at greater risk of long -term health hazards. All this can affect the vegetables and fruits exports from India to other countries.

The ripening of fruits and vegetables after storage has been used since many years due to the commercial advantages that it offers. It is done to achieve uniform ripening characteristics at a faster rate at the cost of its nutritional levels.

Several suppliers and dealers believe that stocking up of unripe fruits and vegetables is a waste to time and also loss of revenue. Less time taken by the fruits and vegetables to ripen means they can market them faster and earn higher profits. Thus, they resort to artificial means of ripening. Also, a significant amount of fruits and vegetables become undesirable in the course of natural ripening owing to weight loss, uneven ripening and dehydration. This again could hit the fruits and vegetables export from India by a great extent.

Chemical used to ripen fruits and vegetables are;

• Calcium Carbide
• Ethylene
• Ethephon

Many countries, including India have permitted the use of Ethylene and Ethephon in a limited concentration as they are less harmful that Calcium carbide. However, due to the lack of knowledge of its usage by farmers and dealers, they have been used extensively. This has led several petitions to be filed against the usage of Ethylene and Ethephon too.

How to identify artificially ripened fruits and vegetables?

• Fruits having a uniform colour or those that look attractive may be artificially ripened. Naturally ripened fruits are patchy and not uniformly coloured.
• When papayas, mangoes are uniformly yellow/ orange in colour and tomatoes are uniformly red, then calcium carbide may have been used.
• Artificially ripened bananas may be all yellow or green in colour but the stem may be dark.

A thumb rule to follow is; never purchase vegetables and fruits that are bright, eye-catching and uniformly coloured. Also, washing the fruits thoroughly and peeling them before eating can minimize the health risks. Also, avoid buying fruits and vegetables that arrive in the market before the season.

What health hazards are associated with these ripening agents?

Calcium Carbide contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous and it is a known carcinogen. It damages the liver and has harmful effects on other parts of the body. Other symptoms may include burning sensations in the chest, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing, weakness, thirst, irritation in the eyes and skin, skin ulcers, sore throat etc. Long-term exposure to these chemicals may cause build up of fluids in the lungs. It may also cause dizziness, sleepiness, mood disturbances, mental confusion, cerebral oedema and seizure.

Artificial ripening is a complex issue and the traders of vegetables and fruits exports from India must ensure that they use the chemicals within the permissible levels or not use at all and help people eat healthy food. Also, the government along with the farmers, scientists, policy makers and consumers must find an effective solution to end this problem.


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