Fruit lovers can no longer munch away at their desired fruits with reckless abandon as it used to be. Now, as you munch, suck, lick or drink, you have to keep your eyes and other senses wide open – including your sixth sense.
That fruit you are gnawing on may do your body the desired good you hope for, or send you six feet below in a black body bag. That is the effect the demand for fruits have caused in Nigeria, and Lagos especially.
Why the message of doom you may ask. It is because of the penchant of some daredevil fruit sellers who hasten the ripening process of the fruits with harmful chemicals such as carbide.
Gone were the days when food poisoning was something done deliberately for prepared food for certain people. These days, a bite of a seemingly harmless, nutritious, delicious and rotund apple or banana can result in unexpected food poisoning – all through carbide.
Calcium carbide is a chemical used for artificially ripening fruit. According to experts, when calcium carbide comes in contact with moisture, it produces acetylene gas, which is quite similar in its effects to the natural ripening agent, ethylene. Acetylene acts like ethylene and accelerates the ripening process.
Industrial-grade calcium carbide may also contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus, which makes it a human health concern. Other ripening agents include ethephon (an insecticide), ethanol, ethylene glycol and methanol
While the use of this chemical for this purpose is illegal in most countries, Nigeria appears not to have gotten the memo. If it has, the people’s consciousness has not been awakened enough to the effects in the fruits being sold and distributed here in Nigeria.
Just over a year ago, a reporter was poisoned through these process and ended up dying due to complications thereafter.
At Agboju market in Amuwo Odofin in Lagos, a source at the market pointed at a spot where fruits were being forced to ripen with chemicals. She explained that the fruits that were unripe were forced to ripen within a day, as the sellers use carbide to achieve that purpose.
In an attempt to speak with some of the fruit sellers, they all claimed to be getting their friuts almost ripe before they sell them. Yet our reporter saw heaps of banana being carried into the spot he was told the ripening normally take place.
A seller who pleaded anonymity said that it is a trick they have been using for a long time and it helps their business. According to her, they buy unripe plantain and banana in bulk. Since they cannot predict when they will sell everything, they ripen them batch after batch for daily sales.
The seller, however when confronted with the fact that the chemicals they use are harmful, said that she had heard of such before, but she and her colleagues are careful as the make sure that the chemicals do not directly come in contact with the products.
A reporter also went into the popular Sunday Market at Ogba, to speak with some fruit sellers and got their opinions and methods of ripening fruits. Many of them claimed to know nothing of fast-ripening of fruits.
A woman who refused to give her name however shared that it is mostly bananas and plantains, which she sells that she puts through many processes. She, however, explained that she does not make use of any form of chemicals, but she wets the fruits with normal water and then wraps them in several layers of a sack for a couple of days.
She explained that her banana and plantain stocks, which are ripened in this manner usually come out fresh and can stay for days without going bad. She also added that she was aware of the fact that people use carbide to ripen seasonal fruits like mango, banana, cucumber, plantain, pineapple, watermelon, guava, pawpaw and even others like apple, tomatoes, and grapes. But she said those who do that know themselves, but she and her colleagues in the market do not.
These act were found to be common in urban cities, especially in Lagos. Since the fruits are mostly brought in from other parts of the country, it is difficult to control supply. So, retailers tend to use these unnatural methods to ripen fruits to meet demand.
A food nutritionist explained the process of carbide ripening. “Most fruits are picked long before they are ripe for easy transportation. The moment the fruits are sizeable, for example plantain, it is immediately cut down and shipped. Some fruits are able to continue ripening after being picked, however, others can ripen only on the plant and thus have a short shelf life if harvested when they are ripe. This makes it tricky to harvest, ship and sell.”
She further revealed that sometimes, plantain on its own would take another one to two months to ripen, but they harvest it all the same. Once harvested, because they need to sell it for good profit especially when it is not in season, they rub the fruits copiously with carbide and then wrap them in black plastic bags to attract light. Then, they hide it in warm dark corners and leave it overnight. By the time they open it up in the morning, the previously unripe bananas are ripe.
When asked where they procure such harmful chemicals like carbide from, the expert explained that there are a number of sources, the easiest being through panel beaters who come across the substance easily.
The story of a staff of Independent Newspapers who died from kidney failure after eating bananas he bought from Ojota bus-stop, Lagos on December 24, 2016 immediately comes to mind. This tells us that quickened ripening of fruits is not as alien or difficult to come by as was once thought, a confirmation of Mrs. Oni’s words.
A young man recently shared his experience that nearly took his life. He explained that he bought roasted plantain, (boli) a favourite Nigerian delicacy usually eaten with groundnuts, from a roadside vendor and planned to eat it for dinner.
Upon tasting the plantain, he realised something was different and was unable to finish it, so he abandoned it. He woke up with a mild stomach ache in the middle of the night, but after an hour of consuming salt and water mixture with the hope of relief, he realised he was in trouble and was taken to the hospital by his family. He was confirmed to have been poisoned and when the remnant of his ‘boli’ was tested, it was discovered that the poisoning agent was carbide.
After he was treated and discharged, he shared that he went to confront the seller who chased him off with a broom saying “don’t you want me to sell market?” Evidently, the hundred naira for the boli was worth more to her than the life of the young man.
Another man explained his experience after eating bananas bought in Ikeja, Lagos axis. He explained that while the banana looked fresh and ripe on the outside, the fruit inside was a different case as it tasted unripe and hard. While he smartly stopped eating the said fruits immediately he noticed this, the little he had consumed took its toll and he felt uncomfortable. He stated that his discomfort and several visits to the toilet did not abate the pain and he immediately went to the hospital. It was while at the hospital that he was confirmed to be suffering the effects of food poisoning.
These cases are not isolated as there are hundreds more of such reported and unreported cases of fruit related food poisoning.
Fruits are supposed to be the most natural and nutritious edibles consumed by man, but here in Nigeria, they have become death traps.
Speaking with Mrs. Rufai, a pharmacist, she explained that carbide is simply poison. Therefore introducing that into the system of a living thing would cause a fatal reaction.
Dr. Damian Avar, a General Practitioner and the founder and CEO of DoctorsHub Nigeria explained in an interview that “while there are a few ripening agents out there, calcium carbide (used in welding) is the most used agent because it is very cheap to buy and it is also easily available. When the calcium carbide mixes with water, it releases a garlic-smelling gas, acetylene, which performs a similar ripening action as ethylene- the natural ripening agent that ripens fruits. Calcium carbide is replete with toxic metals like arsenic and lead, and some traces of phosphorus hydride. For this singular reason, calcium carbide has been banned for use as a ripening agent in most developed countries of the world.
Apart from making the fruits less juicy, less tasty, have shorter lives and making them lose their natural flavours and aromas, calcium carbide has been found to cause the following health hazards like diarrhoea with or without blood, severe gastrointestinal upset, permanent eye damage, stomach ulcer, severe irritation of the skin, mouth, and throat, liver injury amongst other.
By every conceivable metric, fruits ripened with carbide have far more severe outcomes than the consumption of unripe fruits. For unripe fruits, it is just the high acid content of the fruits that make them unhealthy for consumption. One thing is for sure, consumption of artificially ripened fruits can manifest health complications, severe enough to cause death.”
Another expert confirmed all the gathered information. He explained that “for example, banana fruits are picked when green before their maturity date and artificially ripened after shipment by being gassed with ethylene. Calcium Carbide (CaC2) hastens the ripening process when CaC2 comes in contact with water; it produces acetylene gas that hastens the ripening of several fruits such as mangoes, bananas, and apples.
However, the problem lies in whether these traders have the necessary knowledge or incentive to carry out this process in the correct manner. The fruits are stacked in a room, all ventilation to the room is then blocked off, and the fruits will ripen in three to five days in the gas (ethylene) that is released.
This substance ensures that there is uniform ripening of the fruits. In addition, the fruits retain their flavour. Research, however, shows that either using ethel (another ripening agent) or CaC2; the chemical must not touch the fruits.
Research further conducted shows the properties of CaC2 and warned against its use to ripen fruits. In a related report, it states that CaC2 is a chemical, which is commonly used by traders to ripen fruits in the local markets. This compound is known to contain impurities such as arsenic & phosphorous and is extremely hazardous to human health.
Consumers who are unaware of these inappropriate ripening procedures adopted may inadvertently take in these toxic compounds, which are found on the surface of the commodities or when these compounds penetrate the dermal layers of the product to lodge in the flesh of the fruits.
Emphatically, traders have been seen applying carbide directly onto the fruits, as most of the traders feel alternative and safer ripening process methods suggested were impracticable and not cost effective.”
The question now is “who secures the health of Nigerians from the greedy disposition of the fruit of death sellers?” Yes, we have the Ministry of Health and the National Agency for Food And Drug Administration and Control, but do they actually regulate the so-called naturally produced foods we eat?
Source: The Independent Nigeria