VIJAYAWADA: The ban on calcium carbide to ripen fruits has brought another chemical to the market — ‘Ethephon’. Used extensively to ripen fruits, experts say that the chemical is equally dangerous to public health. Ethephon is registered as an insecticide. It is sold in sachets and is widely available in the market.
Ethephon sachets are sold as fruit ripening powder that produces Ethylene gas which ripens fruits. Ethylene occurs naturally in the environment, but it isn’t sufficient to uniformly ripen fruits such as mangoes. This is where Ethephon sachets come in handy as they speed up the ripening process. The use of Ethephon could cause serious health issues, say experts.
According to joint collector of food safety N Purnachandar Rao, Ethephon sachets currently sold in the market contain higher than permitted levels of insecticide. The label on the sachets claims that each pack contains three grams of 20 per cent Ethephon. Three such sachets, nine grams, are used to ripen 10 kilos of mangoes. But, the permissible quantity of Ethephon for 10kg mangoes is no more than 0.5 grams.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued guidelines on Ethephon use as a fruit ripening agent. The guidelines clearly state that the permissible quantity is not more than 0.5 grams for 10kg fruit. Further, the sachets should be placed in perforated plastic boxes and should not come in direct contact with the fruit.
However, in practical use, Ethephon sachets are placed between fruits and dipped in water to instantly produce Ethylene gas. As the chemical is being used directly and in excess of permitted amounts, residue of the insecticide remains on fruits, says Rao.
If consumed, such fruits can cause serious health problems including damage to the upper respiratory tract, oesophagus burns and neurological problems as the chemical is a highly corrosive acid.
The food safety joint collector further said that both awareness camps and enforcement drives are being conducted to stop the use of Ethephon for fruit ripening.
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