There is a rampant artificial ripening of fruits in the country and experts have warned that the ripening agent being used could cause cancer to unsuspecting consumers.
A story by writer Kiprotich Koro, published in the Star Newspaper has revealed that unscrupulous traders in Nairobi and Mombasa are using calcium carbide, a chemical used for welding and making plastics, to quicken the ripening process of fruits such as mangoes, bananas and apples.
Traders in Nairobi’s Gikomba, Marikiti and Mombasa’s Kongowea markets are reported to be using the chemical secretly and as revealed, fruits in the supermarkets have been ripened with the calcium carbide as well, perhaps because most outlets depend on traders from these markets for their supplies.
If you are taking a safe haven in imported fruits, then you are not really safe either as fruits from countries where calcium carbide use is common like in India (though its prohibited)could also be finding their way in the country. Unfortunately, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and other government bodies mandated to oversee such issues lack the capacity to detect the chemical and better still there are no laws governing its use really.
Kenya imports fruits like mangoes, bananas, oranges and apples from countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt etc.
Calcium Carbide is reported to contain arsenic and phosphorous impurities which can cause other serious complications like miscarriages in pregnant women, liver and kidney damages.
Fruits ripen naturally depending on the season. The natural process occurs through a plant hormone known as ethylene. This process is usually slow and in the business something needs to be done to quicken the ripening process.
However, there are safe and widely accepted procedures to ripen fruits artificially even though such are said lack the flavour, smell and nutritional value that naturally ripe fruits contain. These methods include;
- Use of fruits containing high ethylene e.g. avocados, ripe bananas and purple passion to ripen other fruits.
- Use of smoke, where fruits are kept in hay-lined wooden boxes (crates and a wood fire is lit below them. The smoke contains ethylene and acetylenes gases, which induce ripening.
- Use of catalytic generators to produce ethylene gas. Fruits can also be placed in a room in which ethylene gas or acetylene gas is introduced.
- Covered fruit ripening bowls
Even though calcium carbide is used in some countries as a ripening agent, some countries have banned its use because of its harmful effects to the human body.
Artificially ripened fruits are said to be appealing in colour, which deceives the consumer to believe that the fruit is ripe only to discover its green inside. This is most common in mangoes and bananas. Consumers are advised to wash and peel fruits before eating in order to reduce the chemical content on the skin.