Some medical practitioners and fruit sellers have condemned the use of chemicals to ripen fruits such as orange, mangoes, banana and plantain, warning that it is injurious to health.
They made this known in separate interviews on a national survey conducted by newsmen on the health implications of artificially ripening of fruits.
In Enugu, Mrs Henrietta Ugwu, a Nutrition Officer, Enugu State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, told journalists that chemically-induced ripen fruits might be the cause of the upsurge in non-communicable diseases in the country.
Ugwu said that the development by some unscrupulous traders using Calcium Carbide (CaC2) or other chemicals on raw food and other edible items was “very bad and evil’’.
She noted that the Ministry of Health had raised awareness on the issue, but expressed regrets that it had not gotten to the consumers of fruits.
“Non-communicable diseases for some time now are on the increase and some health experts had attributed it to our lifestyle and the food we eat.
“It is bad and evil that we pluck a fruit today and expect it to ripen within a day or two, thus, disrupting the natural ripening circle of the fruit,’’ Ugwu said.
According to her, the state’s Committee on Food and Nutrition is studying the development as an emerging issue in nutrition even as it has continued to advocate against it.
Dr Edith Nnadi of the Department of Food and Nutrition, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), urged Nigerians to always wash their fruits very well before eating to reduce the effect of the chemicals on the fruit.
Nnadi said this chemical contains phosphorus among other things that were harmful to the human health.
“It is advisable to wash fruits very well since you do not know if calcium carbide was used by the dealer or seller to ripen the fruit, such as orange, banana, water melon and mangoes.
“Calcium carbide has the ability to alter cells into cancerous cells as well as cause other harms to the body. In many countries is an offence to use calcium carbide in ripening fruits,’’ Nnadi said.
She, however, urged fruits sellers who want to ripen fruits to use ethylene which had no adverse effects on human health.
“Ethylene is a gas naturally produced by plants to trigger leaves to turn yellow and fall off during winter season.
“Fruits sellers can use ethylene since is a ripening hormone and a chemical substance produced by fruits with a biological action of accelerating fruits maturity and ripening,’’ Nnadi said.
Mr Nnamdi Ibezim, the Zonal Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, South-East Regional Office, said the use of carbide to ripen fruits in the area “is rare and if at all it exists, it is usually done secretly’’.
Ibezim said the Agricultural Quarantine Services of the ministry had been working day and night to ensure that such adulterated foods did not get to the final consumers.
He said that the ministry was collaborating with the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to help detect such adulterated products and destroy it.
The director said the health implications of using carbide to ripen a fruit “is that it is cancerous to the consumers’’.
“Chemical reactions of carbide and that of the fruits can cause system breakdown and various other sicknesses because carbide is not a chemical that is friendly for human consumption,’’ Ibezim said.
Mrs Stella Urama, a banana seller in Obollo-Afor Motor-Park near Nsukka, confirmed that some banana sellers used carbide to ripen banana.
“For me, I use rice bags, cloth and cartons to cover my banana to increase heat so that it will ripen fast.
“Many people buy banana from me because they know I don’t use carbide to ripen banana and other fruits. I have been selling fruits for the past 15 years. I have used it to train my children up to university level,’’ Urama said.
Miss Amaka Ejiofor, another banana seller at Ogbete Market, Enugu, said she might not know if her banana was one that the suppliers had used carbide to ripen before she bought it.
Ejiofor said that the taste of banana was one of the ways one could know and detect that it was not naturally ripened, adding that those engaged in the act are mainly hawkers.
“A person that had used carbide to ripen fruits will be more inclined to hawk because the buyer might not get to see him or her again let alone returning such fruits for a refund or exchange,’’ Ejiofor said.
Another fruit seller, who simply gave her name as Mama Ebuka, said she was not aware if her colleagues use carbide to ripen their fruits.
She said no customer had come to complain about a fruit that tasted differently due to the use of carbide neither had she heard of complaint from other fruit sellers.
Ebuka revealed that government officials rarely come randomly to inspect their fruits.
“If you buy banana and it seems to be strong even when it has a yellowish back, one should keep it for at least two days and then, it will be discovered that the banana will have a mixed colour of green and yellow.’’
She also collaborated that “it is very difficult to see fruit sellers who have shops use carbide because they know that it will not be long they will be caught and that is the end of their fruit business’’.
Mrs Olajumoke Ojetokun, the South-East Director of NAFDAC, said that the use of chemicals and other unnatural means to ripen fruits was dangerous to the health of fruit consumers.
Ojetokun, who condemned the practice, said that NAFDAC in the zone was on the look-out for those who perpetrate such acts.
“We have detailed our field and surveillance officers to be on the lookout for Nigerians who engage in forceful ripening of fruits and selling same to our people.
“The agency also needed the information and intelligence of Nigerians, especially as it concerns reporting those in their neighbourhoods engaging in this negative practice,’’ Ojetokun said.
In Awka, Mrs Ijeoma Ukachukwu, a banana seller at popular Aroma Junction, Awka, said she had been in the business of fruits selling for 15 years and had not used any substance to ripen her banana.
“I gathered that people use carbide to quicken the days for plantain and banana to ripen, but such practice is not common in Awka,’’ Ukachukwu said.
According to her, most fruit sellers in the area do not use such because fruits ripened through such process rot easily.
Ukachukwu explained that why a banana or plantain that ripe on its own lasts more than three days before it rots, the one ripen with carbide barely last for one or two days.
Mrs Ebelechukwu Obidiegwu, who sells fruits at Eke Awka Market Roundabout, corroborated Ukachukwu’s claim that fruits sellers in the area were not involved in artificial ripening of fruits.
Obidiegwu said that fruits sellers in the area were well informed of the dangers associated with application of chemicals on fruits and avoids such practice.
“I have being in this trade for more than 25 years now, the proceed I make from this trade has been assisting in the training of my four children since my husband died 11 years ago.
“I must confess that I once applied carbide on my banana about three years after my husband’s death due to pressure of paying my children’s school fees.
“When I did that, thinking I could ripen my fruits faster to enable me make money to pay the fees, within two days the whole banana damaged and I recorded huge loss,’’ she said.
Obidiegwu noted that it was in the course of that the people told her of the dangers inherent in the practice, adding “since that experience, I have not tried it again’’.
Dr Gerald Onyekwere, a private medical practitioner based in Awka, said that using artificial ripening of fruits had several health implications.
He said consumers of artificially ripen fruits could suffer several health hazards, saying calcium carbide contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus which was injurious to human system.
“One could get cancerous ailment, constipation and any other stomach challenge from consumption of such harmful fruits,’’ he said.
Onyekwere advised that relevant government bodies should enlighten the public on the dangers of using artificial ripening with a view to averting the obvious dangers.