Customers should be alert when they reach for ripe, juicy and glossy mango, papaya and other fruits as they could be ripened using chemicals. Doctors say such fruits are a health hazard.
With the demand for fruits and salad vegetables peaking in the scorching summer season, several traders and vendors are reportedly making a killing by ripening and sweetening fruits artificially.
Vendors in the city’s biggest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Koyambedu, and a few other markets in the city, allegedly do not conform to the guidelines laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Sources say that in order to make a quick buck, traders are using calcium carbides to ripen fruits such as mangoes, exposing customers to the risk of health hazards.
With the onset of kathiri veyyil a few days ago, the demand for fruits like mangoes, banana, papaya and watermelons has only gone up. However, some vendors using carbide stones and other chemical elements for artificial ripening, have turned out to be a bane. In doing so, such fruits would be ready for consumption practically overnight. Those claiming to know more allege that some traders also inject ‘erythrocyte’ in watermelons, to enhance the natural colour of the fruit.
Small- time fruit vendors also claim that when they go to Koyambedu market early in the morning, they notice traders spraying chemicals on the fruits. “On a few occasions, when I went to purchase mangoes and watermelons, I was shocked to see carbide stones poking out of the fruit pile. I have heard some customers complaining about the stones, when they came to buy fruits like mangos, chikku and watermelons,” said A Marimuthu, a fruit vendor in Aminjikarai. Some traders in Koyambedu market complex even keep the spray bottles inside their shops and since the officials have failed to conduct frequent raids and apprehend violators, most of them get away scot- free.
However, members of Koyambedu Market Licensed Merchants Associations say that they advise the traders not to indulge in such practices. Thyagarajan, president, Koyambedu Market Vegetable and Fruit Vendors Association, said, “FSSAI and Greater Chennai Corporation officials are conducting raids on a continuous basis and we are also advising the traders in the market not to use any chemical spray and carbide stones for artificial ripening.”
However, a vendor from the Koyambedu fruit market, speaking on condition of anonymity said that although they use chemicals, they ensure that this does not cause health hazards to the consumers. “I have been selling fruits like mangoes and chikku for over a decade here, and no customer has complained about fruits,” he said.
Exercise caution: When contacted, Food Safety Wing Designated Officer, R Kathiravan, Chennai, told DTNext that they are constantly inspecting all the markets across the city and appealing to the consumers to purchase only those mangos that ripen naturally. People should be careful while purchasing fruits like mangoes, chikku, banana and papaya, as there is a possibility that they have been artificially ripened,” he said. When asked about colouring agents in fruit juices, the officer said that they target such vendors. “We will conduct raids soon.”
Risk of allergies: Doctors say artificially ripened fruits contain lesser nutritional value and can cause allergies. Dr M A Aleem, former Vice-Principal and a medical expert of KAPV Government Medical College, Tiruchy, said, “Eating fruits ripened with carbide and ethylene would pave the way for causing diarrhoea, peptic ulcer, indigestion and irritation in the mouth. Consumers should buy fruits with utmost care. Worse still, it could cause cancer of the bladder.”
Touch of stone: The carbide stone has chemicals which are detrimental to health. Due to these chemicals, fruits are being ripened within 12 hours. However, ethylene gas is permitted to be used by FSSAI for ripening by dipping the mangos in the liquid.
What norms say: No person shall sell or offer or expose for sale or have in his premises for the purpose of sale under any description, fruits which have been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas, commonly known as carbide gas. The fresh fruits and vegetables shall be free from rotting and free from coating of waxes, mineral oil and colours.
Carbide stone is banned
The chemical is banned under the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011
Violators could be penalised with a 7-year imprisonment or a hefty fine
Around five tonnes of artificial fruits, including mangoes, were seized in 2016
8.5 tonnes of fruits have been seized till date this year
Ethylene gas is the permitted and most commonly used ripening agent .