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Artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables is a common practice which causes serious concern among many people. Do scientific evidences support such concerns?

Recent decades witnessed a clear trend for increasing consumption of organic food. Driving forces behind this trend is growing health awareness and tendency to adopt healthier lifestyle.

Modern agriculture: chemicals galore

Modern agriculture tends to utilize a variety of chemicals such as fertilizers, growth enhancers, herbicides and insecticides. More chemicals used to keep agricultural products fresh and unspoiled while they are stored and transported. Yet more additives are employed to modify or enhance the taste. And even though most chemicals are rigorously tested and considered safe, the total exposure to multiple unnatural ingredients can become rather substantial. The long-term consequences of such exposure are not sufficiently studied.

The quality of fruits and vegetables is of particular concern for many healthy eaters. Lots of individuals are choosing the diets loaded with fruits and vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend a diet that is “rich in fruits and vegetables” to help “reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases”.  Not only fruits and vegetables help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, but they provide an abundance of vitamins and nutrients the body needs on a daily basis. 

The lack of fruits and vegetables in our diet is proven to increase the risk of obesity, type II diabetes and other serious chronic conditions.

Fruits and vegetables are good for health, but what about their quality?

The proverbial “5-a-day”, five portions of fruits and vegetables as a part of everyday meals, is a cornerstone of any modern healthy diet.  Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day can help the body better manage the weight, prevent fat gain, and maintain a better blood glucose balance in the system.  There is an abundant amount of research demonstrating the importance of consuming plentiful fruits and vegetables for decreasing the health-related mortality risk.  Recent data demonstrates that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a lower incidence of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.  In addition, novel research show that the risks are decreased further when seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables were eaten daily.

But how healthy these products remain after being exposed to multiple chemicals during their growth, production and transportation? In many cases the answer to this question is not straightforward.

Artificial ripening is a common practice

Fruits, particularly of the exotic varieties, that need to be transported for large distances before they reach the consumers, are often picked up before they become ripened. This is done to ensure that they do not get spoiled during transportation. To make sure the fruits look and taste appealing for the customer, they are often subjected to the process of artificial ripening.

Certain chemicals, such as ethylene and acetylene, accelerate the natural processes inside fruits and allow them to ripe in a short period of time. The resulting products sometimes do lack in the taste but at least look nice and fresh. 

Side effect of such practice is yet another exposure of natural foods to the chemical treatment.

The practice of artificial ripening does cause concern among many people. What the science actually says about the safety of artificially ripened fruits?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Asif, M (2012) Physico-chemical properties and toxic effect of fruit-ripening agent calcium carbide, Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, vol. 5, issue 3, pp. 150-156
  • Oyebode, O, Gordon-Dseagu, V, Walker, A, Mindell, JS (2014) Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England Data”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203500
  • Per, Hüseyin, Kurtoğlu, Selim, Yağmur, Fatih, Gümüş, Hakan, Kumandaş, Sefer, Poyrazoğlu, M. Hakan (2007), "Calcium carbide poisoning via food in childhood", The Journal of Emergency Medicine 32 (2): 179–80.
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