Artificial ripening of fruits and its harmful effects

Fruits and Vegetables are natural sources of vitamins and minerals. People who eat fruits daily have less risk of chronic diseases. As per the World Health Organization, daily 5 servings of fruits will lead to a healthy life.

However, the fruits that ripe naturally in plants are beneficial and are healthy. The fruits ripen by nature by undergoing a lot of physical and natural biochemical events. This process is not reversible and leads to senescence.

The effect of ripening in fruits makes it soft and color changes. Further, an aroma and flavor are developed. Ripen fruits are rich in sugar content as well reduces the acid levels making it taste sweet. Many factors are responsible for the ripening of fruits such as temperature and humidity.

The fruits that ripe and being transported to long-distance get spoiled due to climatic conditions and damage caused due to transportation. Because of these, many traders transport the raw fruit and then ripen the fruits artificially at the destination. 

The ripening process is started in the fruits by the plants by producing the compound called ethylene. The level of ethylene in the under-ripe fruits is very less and when the fruits develop they produce a large amount of ethylene in the fruits which help the fruits in the ripening process. This process is also called a climacteric process. 

This ethylene is responsible for converting complex polysaccharides into simple sugars and makes the fruits soft. Studies show that the ethylene compound regulates the expression of several genes that help in fruits ripening.

In the artificial fruit ripening process, this is done by the chemicals such as ethephon (2-chloroethylphosphoric acid). It penetrates the fruits and decomposes ethylene. Another chemical used in the process is calcium carbide, which produces analog to ethylene called acetylene.

However there are several drawbacks, artificial ripening fruit gas is explosive and it breaks down the organic composition of vitamins and other micronutrients. Also, it only changes the color but fruits stay raw from inside. Another negative effect is calcium carbide often contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous which are toxic.

The symptoms of arsenic and phosphorous are diarrhea with/without blood, thirst, vomiting, and problem in swallowing, burning of eyes, permanent eye damage, ulcers of skin, nose, mouth throat, cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Artificially ripened mangoes can upset the stomach. Prolong exposure may cause peptic ulcers as it damages the mucosal tissue in the stomach.

The calcium carbide can also affect the neurological systems by causing dizziness, memory loss, headache, high sleepiness, cold and damp skin, cerebral edema, numbness of legs and hands, low blood pressure, general weakness, and seizure, etc

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have banned the use of calcium carbide, under the prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act 1954. Anyone found using it will be imprisoned for 3 years and need to pay a fine of Rs 1000.

If the fruits are artificially ripened then it can be distinguished. For example fruits like mango, tomato, and papaya have a uniform color. In the case of banana, the fruits will be yellow but the stem will be green in color. If fruits are available before the season then it means they are artificially ripened. One has to wash and peel the fruits to minimize the effect of calcium carbide. Analysis needs to be done to check if they are contaminated. 

The gas used for artificial ripening of fruits

A chemical compound called calcium carbide is primarily used in ripening fruits by the farmers. Unripe reach with calcium carbide and produce acetylene which leads to ripening, which is analog to natural ethylene in fruits. This way of ripening fruits causes many side effects. Consumption of calcium carbide treated food causes a lot of diseases that are discussed in the above paragraphs in this article.

Ethephon is another substance used for artificially ripen the fruits. Ethephon and Ethylene are considered safe if used in the prescribed quantity. However, traders do not follow the strict usage conditions and that is why the artificially ripened fruits are harmful. The natural fruits have a large shelf life, are tasty and good for health.

The ripening of fruits by Ethephon and Ethylene is less harmful when compared to calcium carbide. Countries including India permit artificial use of Ethephon and Ethylene in permissible quantities. However, traders and farmers do not have enough knowledge on the permissible limit to use them for ripening.

Information about artificial ripening of fruits by ethylene

Ethylene is produced in the plants and it is present in the air helps in ripening fruits naturally. However, some traders treat the fruits artificially with excess ethylene which ripens the fruits such as apple, avocado, banana, mango, and papaya before the season. The artificial ripening of fruits by ethylene is harmful to our bodies. 

The gas used for the artificial ripening of green fruits is ethylene. It is considered safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration. However, this category of food substance when used for the purposes indicated and following good manufacturing practices is recognized by the FDA as safe for such uses.