Safeguarding Health During Mango Season: A Surgeon’s Warning Against Artificial Ripening and Adulteration

By Dr. Ajesh Raj Saksena, Senior Consultant Surgical Oncologist, Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

New Delhi (India), April 3: As the mango season approaches, anticipation and eagerness fill the air, with families and fruit lovers looking forward to enjoying the “king of fruits.” However, this excitement often overshadows a grave concern that threatens not just the authenticity of the fruit’s taste but, more importantly, our health. I am talking about the dangerous practice of artificial ripening and food adulteration, particularly the use of calcium carbide, a harmful chemical that poses numerous health risks, including cancer. 

The Health Risks of Artificial Fruit Ripening

Calcium carbide, when used in the artificial ripening of fruits like mangoes, reacts with moisture to produce acetylene gas, which mimics the natural process of fruit ripening. However, the use of this chemical is not just an unethical shortcut but a health hazard. Exposure to calcium carbide has been linked to several health issues, ranging from neurological disorders to severe gastric irritation, and, in long-term cases, it can increase the risk of developing cancer.

 • Neurological Disorders: Continuous exposure to the chemicals used in artificial ripening can affect the nervous system, leading to headaches, dizziness, and mood disturbances. Over time, these symptoms could escalate to more severe neurological conditions.

 • Gastrointestinal Problems: The ingestion of chemically ripened fruits is often linked to severe gastrointestinal distress, including stomach aches, ulcers, and prolonged episodes of diarrhoea. The harsh chemicals can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to discomfort and acute health complications.

 • Respiratory Issues: Breathing in the residues from these chemicals can lead to respiratory problems such as difficulty breathing, throat irritation, and an increased risk of asthma and bronchitis. For individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, the impact can be significantly worse. 

• Cancer Risk: Perhaps most alarmingly, the long-term exposure to these chemicals has been associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Calcium carbide itself is not a direct carcinogen but its use in food can lead to potential exposure to other harmful chemicals or impurities such as arsenic or phosphorous, which can be present in calcium carbide and have known or suspected carcinogenic effects. Long-term exposure to these chemicals can contribute to the development of various cancers, primarily due to their ability to cause cellular damage and genetic mutations. Here are some types of cancer that could be associated with long-term exposure to harmful chemicals found in artificially ripened fruits: 

Gastrointestinal Cancers: Regular consumption of fruits ripened with harmful chemicals can cause chronic irritation and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, potentially leading to cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum. The constant irritation can lead to cellular changes and, over time, may result in cancerous growths. 

Liver Cancer: The liver is responsible for detoxifying harmful substances, and consistent exposure to carcinogens found in artificially ripened fruits can lead to liver damage and an increased risk of liver cancer. The chemicals can induce mutations in liver cells, leading to cancerous growths. 

 Lung Cancer: Inhalation of chemical residues from artificially ripened fruits can affect the lungs, leading to respiratory issues and potentially increasing the risk of lung cancer, especially in individuals with prolonged exposure to these chemicals. 

Bladder Cancer: Chemicals absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract can end up in the urine, potentially causing irritation of the bladder’s lining. Over time, this irritation could lead to cellular changes and an increased risk of bladder cancer. It’s important to note that the risk of developing cancer from consuming artificially ripened fruits depends on various factors, including the amount and frequency of exposure to these chemicals, individual susceptibility, and genetic factors.

Identifying Artificially Ripened Fruits

As consumers, it’s important to learn how to identify fruits that may have been artificially ripened. Mangoes ripened with calcium carbide often have an uneven color, with patches of green and yellow, and may lack the natural fragrance of a naturally ripened mango. Additionally, the flesh near the skin may feel harder, while the inner flesh remains unnaturally soft. 

Safe Practices for Fruit Consumption 

Before consuming mangoes or any fruit, it’s crucial to clean them properly to minimize the risk of ingesting any residual chemicals. Soaking fruits in water mixed with baking soda for about 15 minutes before rinsing them under running water can help remove some of the chemical residues. 

A Call to Action for Authorities and the Judiciary 

While awareness and preventive measures at the consumer level are important, the responsibility does not end there. It is imperative for authorities and the judiciary to recognize the seriousness of artificial ripening and food adulteration as dangerous public health hazards to our community at large. Stricter regulations, vigilant enforcement, and severe penalties for violations are essential to curb these practices. Making artificial ripening and food adulteration a serious and heinous crime is not just a regulatory necessity but a moral imperative to protect public health and safety. 

The Way Forward

 As a cancer surgeon, I have witnessed the devastating impact that cancer can have on individuals and their families. The link between cancer and environmental factors, including exposure to harmful chemicals found in artificially ripened fruits, underscores the urgency of addressing this issue. Let us not wait for the problem to exacerbate before we take action. It is time for each one of us—consumers, vendors, authorities, and the judiciary—to play our part in ensuring the safety of the food we consume. Let this mango season be not only a time of joy and celebration but also a season of increased awareness, responsibility, and action towards a healthier, safer future. Remember, the choice we make today can safeguard our health tomorrow. Let’s commit to enjoying our mangoes, and all fruits, in their most natural, safe, and delicious form. 

Dr Ajesh Raj Saksena

 Senior Consultant Surgical Oncology Apollo Hospital, Jubilee hills, Hyderabad

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