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Science and dangers of artificial fruits ripening

Fruits are hailed as nature’s jewels, offering a spectrum of colours, flavours, and invaluable health benefits. However, the extent of these benefits depends on how fruits ripen.

The World Health Organisation advises a daily intake of five servings (400g) of fruits and vegetables for optimal health. Thus, high demand and consumption have led to challenges in allowing fruits to ripen naturally.

Ethylene, a natural gaseous compound produced by fruits, plays a crucial role in the ripening process, known as climacteric.

When unripe, ethylene production is sluggish, causing delays in the climacteric phase. Conversely, as fruits ripen, ethylene levels multiply, sometimes leading to overripening and spoilage.

50% post harvest loss in agriculture

In 2023, the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) reported a staggering 50% post-harvest loss in fruits and vegetables annually. This loss underscores the need for efficient ripening practises to minimise waste and meet consumer demands.

They offer a bounty of nutrients, from essential vitamins and minerals to fibre and antioxidants. Regular consumption bolsters the immune system, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, aids digestion, combats free radicals, lowers blood pressure, and promotes radiant skin.

They are also effective for weight management.

Sadly, the quest for profit often leads farmers and vendors to resort to artificial ripening methods.

Common chemicals include ethylene, ethephon, calcium carbide, and potash/alum (akanwu), while pesticides like sniper are used for preservation.

Calcium carbide is particularly prevalent, especially for fruits like bananas, mangoes, and plantains. However, the use of such chemicals poses grave health risks.

The Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Adeyeye Mojisola, warns that calcium carbide contains impurities that can lead to cancer, kidney and liver failure, skin cancer, and even death.

Sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, weakness, and low blood pressure

Symptoms of consuming artificially ripened fruits include sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, weakness, and low blood pressure, making it highly inadvisable, especially for expectant mothers.

Beyond health concerns, these chemicals also harm the environment and jeopardise the safety of workers, farmers, and vendors.

Identifying artificially ripened

Identifying artificially ripened fruits can be challenging, but vigilance is crucial.

Watch for fruits with vibrant exteriors but raw interiors, and be wary of bananas with yellow skin but dark green stems and a powdery residue.

While finger-pointing persists between farmers, vendors, and regulatory agencies, NAFDAC has taken a decisive stance against this illicit practise.

It’s time for consumers to demand natural, healthy fruits and for all stakeholders to prioritise safety, health, and sustainability in the fruit supply chain.

Writing by Juliet OnwurahEditing by Saadatu Albashir