Express press service
CHENNAI: As the demand for fresh fruit increases in the summer, instances of artificial fruit ripening are also increasing. Food security department officials, in just one week in April, seized 7,500 kg of mangoes and 800 kg of avocados artificially ripened using chemicals from traders and shops in Koyambedu market.
Fruit ripening is a natural process involving multiple physiological, biochemical and molecular changes. These processes induce changes in color, sugar content, acidity, texture and aroma, but they take time. Artificially ripened fruits, however, do not need much time, but the use of chemicals causes health problems such as headaches, dizziness and trouble sleeping. They can also damage the nervous system, cause memory loss and even cancer.
The main chemicals used are ethylene, acetylene and calcium carbide. These agents alter the chemical structure of the fruits and make them harmful. According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, calcium carbide was banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954.
There are methods to naturally ripen the fruits even after they are picked from the trees, but as they are time consuming, chemicals are preferred, said P Satheesh Kumar, Designated Officer, Department of Food Safety, Chennai .
“Fruits can be ripened by wrapping them in hay and storing them in a dark room. This method is slow and time consuming. So a gas called ethephon is used,” he said. Explaining the method, Satheesh Kumar said raw fruits which are picked from the trees are kept in a room and gas is sprayed on them. When the gas enters the fruits, a chemical reaction occurs and they ripen. These fruits become harmful and, when eaten, cause numbness, mouth ulcers, diarrhea and vomiting. When consumed in large quantities, they can also lead to cerebral edema.
He said, “The main fruits targeted by these practices are seasonal fruits such as mangoes, avocados, chikoo and watermelon.” A fruit vendor in Alandur market said it would be difficult to eradicate this practice. “During the summer, when there is a huge demand for fresh fruit, combing through every batch in a wholesale market to find naturally ripened fruit is futile.
R Manoharan (63), a retired government worker from Adambakkam, told TNIE: “My granddaughter loves apples. But knowing the dangers of these chemicals, we do not give them without peeling the skin. For other fruits like grapes and mangoes, we soak them in turmeric and salt water.