Food ripening methods ‘hazardous for health’

ISLAMABAD: Farmers’ representatives have said that the lives of the residents of Islamabad are at high risk due to the illegal practice of ripening fruits and vegetables using chemicals.

“Fruits are ripened through commercial methods like calcium carbide wrapped in a cloth or newspaper placed at the bottom of the basket,” Babar Saleem, a farmer, told APP on Monday. “In order to increase the basket temperature and maintain humidity, the basket is covered with strong craft paper.”

“Fruits ripened like this have good skin colour with high acidity and low sugar content, but poorly developed flavour,” said Babar, adding that such fruits are hazardous as they may contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride.
“We are at risk of short-term and long-term health hazards simply for eating such fruits,” he warned.

According to local farmers, in developed countries, fruits are commercially ripened in an artificial chamber having no health hazards. The use of ethylene for this purpose is not harmful for human consumption; but since these compounds are expensive, developing countries use low-cost calcium carbide which is harmful and has many disadvantages.

Rana Munir, another fruit trader, informed APP that commercial ripening was an essential part of their business. “We pick raw fruits and use certain methods to increase their shelf life,” he said.

According to Munir, acetylene gas is an analogue of ethylene which quickens the ripening process and sometimes only skin colour is changed while fruit remains unripe and raw.

Dr Waseem Khawaja of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) told APP that early symptoms of arsenic and phosphorus poisoning included vomiting, diarrhoea with or without blood, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, thirst, weakness and difficulty in swallowing and speaking.

He said that other harmful effects of chemical food include numbness in the legs and hands, cold and damp skin and low blood pressure, and can become fatal if not treated in time.

Dr Amjad, a nutritionist at the National Institute of Health (NIH), recommends developing better technique for artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables to prevent direct contact of the substance with fruits. APP