A scene at the Koyembedu wholesale market.

Image credit: Manasa R.

The use of calcium carbide to ripen fruits has become a common practice in the State, according to K. Vanaja, Assistant Commissioner of Food Safety at the Tamil Nadu Food Safety and Drug Administration.

She warned that the public should take care to wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming them.

Last week, 3.5 tonnes of artificially ripened fruits were seized from the Koyembedu wholesale market.

Vendors used calcium carbide to quickly ripen their produce so that they could sell them earlier, said Vanaja.

But according to a research conducted by the Department of Pharmacy at the Dehradun based Institute of Management and Technology, the intake of food substances with calcium carbide could lead to nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, anaemia and low blood pressure.

A report on the United States National Library of Medicine’s database said calcium carbide could negatively affect the neurological system. “Once dissolved in water, the carbide produces acetylene gas. Acetylene gas may affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia,” it said.  Hypoxia is a condition characterized by deficiency in the amount oxygen reaching the body’s tissues. The result is headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, memory loss, and seizures.

However, the authorities remained ambiguous about the actions taken against the vendors who used artificial ripening agents. “We conduct raids, and whenever we find substances with chemicals, we destroy them,” said Vanaja.

When asked about the measures taken to discourage vendors from using such agents, she said: We have been trying to persuade them. But they are non-cooperative. They want early profits.”