By Sola Ogundipe
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has issued a public alert on what it described as the dangerous practice of sale and consumption of fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide, saying it could cause cancer, heart, kidney and liver failure.
Issuing the warning in a statement entitled “The use of calcium carbide for fruit ripening is unsafe”, Director General of the Agency, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, said ripening fruits with calcium carbide is very dangerous to health and is a criminal offence and that perpetrators would be prosecuted.
Warning farmers and traders to desist from the practice even as she urged the general public to shun the purchase and consumption of artificially ripened fruits in the interest of their own health, Adeyeye said: “Fruits provide the body with micronutrients that improve immunity and prevent diseases among other benefits. Fruit ripening is a unique aspect of plant development, which makes the fruit edible, softer, sweeter, more palatable, nutritious and attractive.
“However, the consumption of fruits such as mango, banana, plantain, guava, orange, grape, etc or any other fruits ripened with calcium carbide is dangerous to health. Ripening fruits with calcium carbide is very dangerous to health and is a criminal offence.”
According to the statement, the effect of artificial ripening on fruit quality affects properties such as colour, taste and feel are lost considerably and it does not give the natural aroma and flavour to the fruits.
“These fruits although possess uniform colour are less juicy than when ripened naturally and have comparatively shorter shelf life. Artificially ripened fruits may be ripe on the skin while the inside is unripe. If the fruits are all yellow whereas the stem is dark, the fruit may be identified as artificially ripened; this is true especially with banana and plantain.
“Consumers are advised to examine fruits carefully to select the right fruit by observing the variation of colour. If the fruit that you buy is too good among others in ‘near perfect’ ripening colour, it may have been ripened with calcium carbide. Fruits should be washed thoroughly under running water before consumption.”
Highlighting health hazards of consuming fruits ripened with calcium carbide, the Agency noted: “Calcium carbide when sprayed with water reacts chemically to produce acetylene, which acts like ethylene and ripens fruits by a similar process. Calcium carbide generally contains impurities such as arsenic, lead particles, phosphorus, etc., that pose a number of very serious health hazards.
“These impurities may cause serious health problems when those applying calcium carbide on fruits come in direct contact with the chemical. Consumption of fruits containing these impurities may cause cancer, heart, kidney and liver failure.
“They may cause frequent thirst, irritation in mouth and nose, weakness, permanent skin damage, difficulty in swallowing, vomiting, skin ulcer and so forth. Higher exposure may cause undesired fluid build-up in lungs (pulmonary oedema).”
The Agency warned that acetylene produced by calcium carbide affects the neurological system and reduces oxygen supply to the brain and further induces prolonged hypoxia.
“The impurities are hazardous to pregnant women and children and may lead to headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, mental confusion, memory loss, cerebral oedema (swelling in the brain caused by excessive fluids), sleepiness, seizure etc.
“Calcium carbide is alkaline in nature and erodes the mucosal tissue in the abdominal region and disrupts intestinal functions. Consuming such artificially ripened fruits could result in sleeping disorders, mouth ulcers, skin rashes, kidney problems and possibly even cancer.
“Other symptoms of poisoning include diarrhoea (with or without blood), burning or tingling sensation in abdomen and chest difficulty in swallowing, irritation in eyes/skin, sore throat, cough, shortness in breathing, numbness etc.”
The Director General explained that NAFDAC is commencing immediate nationwide monitoring of fruits markets to check activities of unscrupulous traders involved in illegal artificial ripening of fruits using hazardous chemicals such as calcium carbide.
The Agency advised that suspected cases to the nearest NAFDAC office or call 09094262773, 09094262772 and 08133630600.