It is a known fact that it has been with us for ages and there are some notoriously greedy Ghanaians behind it.
They decide to poison fruit lovers.
They use it to ripen fruits and even vegetables that need to ripe before they can be sold.
It is called carbide ripening.
I recently tuned in to a radio station and the conversation was about all the short corners foodstuff vendors take at the expense of health.
When the phone lines were opened, a caller called in to talk about how fruit vendors use carbide to ripen mango, pawpaw and banana.
I know this has been a concern for ages.
As a passionate advocate of fruit eating, I got alarmed again, particularly because of the public health dangers inherent in such a practice.
Fruits are indispensable components of a well-balanced diet, providing essential nutrients and vitamins for optimal health.
Experts say naturally ripened fruits ensure that they are safe for consumption and retain their nutritional value.
However, the reckless practice of using harmful chemicals, such as calcium carbide, to hasten fruit ripening should become a cause for concern.
Experts say, carbide ripening, also known as artificial ripening, involves expediting the ripening process of fruits through the application of a chemical compound called calcium carbide.
This highly reactive and toxic substance reacts with moisture to produce acetylene gas, acting as an artificial ripening agent that hastens the fruit’s appearance of ripeness, making them seemingly market-ready in a shorter time frame than natural ripening would allow.
The process and health hazards
Carbide ripening is a cost-effective and straightforward method adopted by some fruit vendors and suppliers to meet market demands for ripe fruits.
The process entails placing unripe fruits in a closed chamber or container with calcium carbide crystals, initiating the release of acetylene gas.
This gas brings about changes in the fruit’s colour, texture and taste, imitating the appearance of naturally ripened fruits.
However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the dangers associated with carbide ripening far outweigh any short-term benefits it may seem to offer.
Calcium carbide is primarily an industrial chemical used in the production of acetylene gas for welding and other industrial purposes.
When applied to fruits, this toxic compound poses significant health hazards to consumers.
The residue of calcium carbide on the fruit’s surface can be absorbed, making it potentially harmful if ingested.
According to experts, the production of acetylene gas during the ripening process can cause respiratory issues when inhaled by workers handling the fruits or customers exposed to these gaseous emissions.
Prolonged exposure to acetylene gas may lead to breathing difficulties, coughing and irritation of the respiratory tract.
In March this year, India’s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) warned that calcium carbide was a highly toxic substance that could cause a range of health problems, including skin irritation and even cancer.
Carbide-ripened fruits often lack the same nutritional value as naturally ripened fruits.
The artificial process can disrupt the natural biochemical changes that occur during natural ripening, resulting in reduced vitamin content, lower enzyme levels, and changes in the fruit’s sugar and nutrient composition.
As a result, consumers may not fully benefit from the expected nutritional value of these fruits.
Consumption of fruits ripened with calcium carbide may lead to gastrointestinal disturbances, including stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
The ingestion of carbide residues may irritate the gastrointestinal lining, causing discomfort and possible long-term health issues.
One of the most alarming dangers of carbide ripening is its potential to produce harmful by-products, such as arsenic and phosphorus.
These substances are known to be carcinogenic and can pose severe health risks when ingested regularly over an extended period, researchers say.
In numerous countries, carbide ripening of fruits is strictly prohibited due to its hazardous nature and the potential risks to public health.
Food safety and health agencies play a crucial role in enforcing these regulations, conducting routine inspections, and imposing penalties on those found engaging in carbide ripening.
Equally essential are public awareness campaigns to educate consumers about the hazards of artificially ripened fruits and encourage them to make informed choices when purchasing fruits.
If you can’t leave nature to ripen the fruits, the Indian Times says there are several alternatives to the use of calcium carbide for ripening mangoes that are both safe and effective.
One such method is the use of ethylene gas, which is a natural plant hormone that is produced by fruits as they ripen.
Ethylene gas can be used to speed up the ripening process of mangoes, without posing any risk to human health.
Another alternative is the use of ripening chambers, which are specially designed rooms that simulate the natural ripening process of fruit.
These chambers use a combination of temperature, humidity and ethylene gas to ripen the fruit naturally, without the use of harmful chemicals.
While we encourage the public to eat more fruit to promote healthy and balance diets, it is also important that the regulatory authorities including the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) pay attention and create awareness of the dangers of such practices.
A little prevention is worth a pound of cure, lets act now.
The author is the Chancellor of the Wisconsin International University College and the immediate past President-General of the West Africa Noble Forum.
Source: Dr Paul Kofi Fynn