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CONSUMERS BEWARE! Nothing fruitful about these

5,September, 2016
 

Artificially ripened fruit is harmful to health. One can complain against such fruit sellers to the consumer court or the food safety officer for selling prohibited stuff

The use of calcium carbide for chemically ripening fruits was banned way back in 1979, under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act

Pushpa Girimaji

A couple of months ago, I bought a box of mangoes from a wholesaler. When I came home and opened the packet, I was surprised to find that inside of the box was very hot and there was a pungent smell as well. I thought it was because of the summer heat. And then I found in both the layers of the box where the raw mangoes were stacked, a paper packet containing a white powder. When I asked the wholesaler, he said I should just keep the packet as it will help the mangoes ripen well. But recently a friend told me that the use of the powder is harmful as it is a chemical and I should not have kept it. Is this true?

The white powder in the packet was obviously calcium carbide, kept to artificially ripen the mangoes. The use of this chemical for such ripening was banned way back in 1979, under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, taking into consideration the harmful effects of consumption of such fruits ripened with acetylene gas on human health. The Food Safety and Standards Act, which replaced the PFA Act, also prohibits the sale of fruits ripened artificially with this chemical (Food Safety and Standards ((Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011). Yet, there is rampant violation of the law and food safety departments have failed to check the menace. And it’s not just mangoes, even bananas, papayas and tomatoes are ripened with this chemical.

In fact, extensive checks conducted by food safety officials in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, in response to directions from the Hyderabad High court, showed use of this harmful chemical to ripen a wide range of fruits, including oranges, sweet lime and chickoo. The high court, which took suo motu notice of newspaper reports on the issue, ordered regular checks on fruit markets to end the menace. It also directed extensive consumer education on the issue and establishment of ethylene chambers in markets to ripen fruits in a safe manner. Those who use the chemical for artificially ripening the fruits, the court observed, are worse than terrorists, for killing generations of people with slow poison.

In fact, if you go on the website of the central food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, you will find an article there titled “Consuming fruits ripened artificially by calcium carbide may pose health problems”. It gives you complete information on the effects of calcium carbide on fruit quality and the attendant health risks. And how such fruits “affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia (low oxygen reaching the blood and tissues), which causes headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, sleepiness, mental confusion, memory loss, cerebral oedema (swelling in brain caused by excessive fluids) and seizures.”

It is really unfortunate that despite the deleterious effects of such ripening on the human health, not enough efforts have been made to put an end to this practice in the last 36 years since the ban first came into effect. In fact, it seems like the usage has only increased over the years and while initially it was just mango that was subjected to such ripening, it has now spread to almost all fruits.

If I want to complain about the chemical, how do I do it?

If you have the receipt, the box and the packet, you could not only complain to the food safety officer in your state, but also lodge a complaint before the consumer court against the wholesaler from whom you bought the mangoes, for selling prohibited food and causing you harm. The immediate effect of consuming such artificially ripened fruit is gastric irritation and may be mouth ulcers, but the long term, more serious effect is not immediately discernable, but is serious. The court has to take cognizance of that while awarding compensation and punitive damages. You can also seek a direction to the state government to take immediate steps to stop this practice.

If you do not have the evidence, you can still complain to the food safety officer and ask them to investigate the wholesaler from whom you bought the fruit. The mango season is over, but I am sure he would be ripening other fruits using the banned chemical, and they can stop that. But it is absolutely essential that you bring it to the notice of the food safety authorities so that they can prosecute the vendor for violation of the Food Safety and Standards Act and prevent such practices.

Categories: NEWS
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