Dangers of Forceful Ripening of Fruits

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Fruits are the fleshy edible seed bearing part of plants that are sweet or sour, and in the raw state.

It has been recognized as a good source of vitamins and minerals needed for body fitness.

People who eat fruit as part of an overall healthy diet, generally have a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

On the other hand, in Nigeria, people eat anything that comes their way, mainly out of ignorance, arising from low levels of awareness.

Ripening is a natural process that takes place in fruits.

It is the process that softens fruits and makes them ready for ingestion. Typically, fruits change colour, texture, taste and, in some cases, emit pleasant aroma when they are ripe.

Ripening makes fruits nutritious and, for the traders, this is a delicate period when as much of the fruits as possible, have to be sold or risk them rotting away.

However, not many traders are ready to wait for the natural ripening process, which is why fruits such as bananas, mangoes and pineapples are sometimes forced to ripen, using artificial or chemical agents such as calcium carbide and ethephon.

Forced ripening of fruits meant for human consumption, using dangerous chemical substances, is fast becoming a usual practise in this part of the world, despite its hazardous implications for health.

Fruits that are forced to ripen are more attractive and are identified by their uniformity in colour, soft and have very short storage lifespan. They are less tasty compared to those that ripen naturally.

This is why experts and agro allied institutions have warned against the dangerous trend with the recent one coming from the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC.

In a statement by its Director-General, Moji Adeyeye, carbide contains impurities such as arsenic, lead particle and phosphorous and consumption of fruits containing these impurities may cause cancer, heart, kidney and liver failure.

Similarly, in a figure released by the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, there were over 2 million cases of cancer in the country in 2016, with 100,000 new cases occurring every year. While the world health organisation put the latest figures at 80,000 cancer deaths per annum.

Irritation of the mouth, nose, eye and skin, permanent skin damage, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, shortness of breath and numbness are some of the other health hazards associated with coming in contact with carbide or ingesting any food item ripened using the chemical.

This is why all hands must be on deck to ensure that machineries are put in motion to ensure that all foods and drinks taken in the country are properly monitored just as it is done in advanced countries.

In Europe, for example, any food item imported has to meet set standards before the citizens can be allowed to eat it.

Between 2015 and 2016 about 67 food items exported by Nigeria to the European Union countries were banned for failure to comply with their standards.

It behooves NAFDAC and other stakeholders to go beyond the practise of periodic warnings, but ensuring compliance with extant laws concerning the quality and standards of ingestible items in the country.

The public should be sensitized on ways to identify fruits that have been forced to ripen.

NAFDAC and the relevant agencies should educate fruit dealers on the danger of using chemicals to ripen fruits meant for human consumption and ensure effective monitoring to avoid preventable deaths.

Government should introduce a national policy that would criminalise artificial ripening of fruits with chemicals.

Public health officials in local government councils across the country should also ensure that fruits being sold were not forced to ripen artificially.

Fawzeeyah Kasheem

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