Beware of Toxic Artificially Ripened Fruits

Fruits are widely loved and almost everyone has their favourite kind. They are sweet, flavourful and come in a wide spectrum of appealing colours. Still, their most appealing quality goes to their nutrition value.

They are so to speak the workshop of vitamins and minerals in our body. They pack generous amounts of these nutrients and usually, without sacrificing much on the taste.

Consumption of a wide variety of fruits thus reduces the chances of various micronutrient deficiencies by a big margin; a good reason why they should be enjoyed in the all stages of life, from weaning to ripe old ages.


Ripening of Fruits

ripe bananas
Ripe Bananas
Due to the high demand of fruits, many people have now ventured into the fruit business. Many of these fruits require lesser skills to cultivate and maintain explaining the appeal to this line of business. Walking along the streets gives sufficient proof to this assertion; you’d be hard pressed not to run into a fruit vendor on a cart, a hawker or even a kiosk brimming with all manner of fruits.

Depending with the fruit question, ripening may happen while still attached to the mother crop, after separation or both. Ripening in itself is hardly the issue rather it’s the process used.

The traditional ripening method is to leave the fruits to mature at their own discretion; that is, whether unharvested or after harvesting and subsequent storage under favourable conditions.

This takes time and money, a dire situation for farmers and traders that wish to get the fruits of their labour when conditions are most ideal. As a result, some opt to find ways to hasten the ripening using unscrupulous ways, the most common being the use of chemicals.

One such chemical is calcium carbide which has featured in the headlines on multiple occasions for all the wrong reasons.



Artificially Ripening with Calcium Carbide

Calcium Carbide is a compound that’s produced by industries that manufacture fertilizers and is often at times used in welding. It combines with the water to produce a gas (acetylene) that expedites the ripening.

Common fruits that are implicated in this kind of ripening include bananas, mangoes, pawpaw and apples.

Calcium Carbide is very harmful as its considered carcinogenic and thus could potentially cause cancer. Furthermore, the chemical often has traces of arsenic and phosphorus. It’s these two that pose the major health risks since the gas (acetylene) that causes the ripening is toxic in higher doses that are unlikely to be found in these fruits.

This study on artificially ripened fruits lists the following potential symptoms that may be caused by these two compounds:
“The early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea with or without blood, burning sensation of the chest and abdomen, thirst, weakness, difficulty in swallowing, irritation or burning in the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers on the skin, irritation in the mouth, nose and throat. ... Eating artificially ripened mangoes causes stomach upset because the alkaline substance is an irritant that erodes the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts intestinal function. Chronic exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcers.”

An investigation conducted by The Star Newspaper back in March 2014 in Nairobi and Mombasa on found traces of this chemical in fruits sold in supermarkets and some of the city’s markets.

Ripening of fruits like bananas usually takes weeks however with Calcium Carbide it’s only a matter of hours (24–48 hrs.). These allows such fruit traders to leverage the selling of their produce when market conditions are most optimum (demand is high and supply is low).

In addition to this, artificially ripened fruits have even colours with few spots and injuries, a quality that renders them more attractive to customers.



Detecting Artificially Ripened Fruits

Despite this new challenge, we shouldn’t stop eating fruits as they have tremendous benefits for our health. Instead, we should endeavour to tell apart between the naturally and artificially ripened ones.The most easily identifiable characteristic is that artificially ripened fruits have a uniform colour.

For example, a banana will be entirely yellow with little to no blemishes but the apexes (top) and stock (point of attachment) will be greenish. Concerning this, the study we quoted earlier has this to say: 
“… fruits ripened with CaC2 [Calcium Carbide] are overly soft and less tasty. They also have a shorter shelf-life. An artificially ripened fruit would present a yellow outer skin, but the tissue inside would not be ripe or itself remains green and raw.”

The Star's investigation further asserts that imported fruits are more likely to be artificially ripened if they originate from countries where Calcium carbide use is prevalent. As such, it's worthwhile ascertaining the origin of the fruits you buy from a vendor in addition to inspecting them.

This also includes the vendors that prepare salads as opposed to selling whole fruits. And while we're on this, make sure their stations are hygienic and well covered from environmental contaminants. In particular are roadsides where dust and exhaust fumes are unavoidable.

Lastly, you should clean your fruits properly before eating them. Washing fruits properly will help to get rid of chemicals and other contaminants on the skin of the fruit. Otherwise you risk ingesting even more contaminants with the false premise that you’re “eating healthy”.
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