Food Preservation: Time To Check Traders’ Excesses

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Fruit sellers at an open air market in Nigeria.

Have you ever bought oranges, mangoes, bananas, plantain and some other agricultural produce and wondered about their taste? Were they plucked before maturity? Were they cooked or ripened with chemicals, especially calcium carbide among others? Were they washed with detergents?
Calcium carbide is a chemical compound that is industrially used in the production of calcium cyanamide for fertilizer and also in welding. When calcium carbide comes into contact with water it produces acetylene gas that hastens the ripening of several fruits such as mangoes, bananas and apples.
These are some unscrupulous practices by traders in the various major and minor markets around us that pose a big threat to human health.
Food is one of the necessities of life, besides shelter and clothing. Through food, the human body is nourished with various nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals essential for making a person healthy.
In as much as human beings cannot survive without food, how the food is handled after harvest and during storage can be a big threat to a person’s health and general well-being.
Agriculture analysts believe that apart from the abuse of fertilizer application at various stages of planting, the use of chemicals for storage and ripening of fruits has become a huge cause for concern. So also is the washing of fruits, vegetables, nuts and root crops with detergents.
According to them, general abuse of agricultural produce, especially beans and other grains by traders in markets and vendors or retailers at different selling locations have reached an alarming stage.
It is common today to see fruits, vegetables, nuts and root crops retailers and vendors washing them with detergent. Equally disturbing is the traders’ use of carbides to ripen fruits and pesticides like Sniper on beans to prevent or remove weevils’ infestations.
Chief Akanbi Adeoye, the leader (Babaloja) of Ikosi market, popularly known as Jakande Fruit Market, Ketu, Lagos State, blames fruits and vegetables vendors and retailers outside the major markets for such practices.
“Our information and security officers have not made complaints about such incidents in this market.
“Here, fruits and vegetables are sold on wholesale basis to traders from all parts of the state and they carry them in bulk to their various markets and selling locations,’’ he said.
Mr Adebayo Damola, a trader and wholesaler of plantain, pears, avocado, pineapples and bananas among others, says those who use carbide to ripen fruits and vegetables and wash them with detergents do it outside the major markets.
“Here, we are middlemen to farmers who entrust us with their produce which come straight from their farms.
“We sell in bulk to traders within and outside this market and they take them to places where they sell.
“However, l know that fruit and vegetable retailers and vendors use carbides to make them ripe fast.
“I know too that some wash them with detergents to remove the soil and make it clean enough for display to attract customers,’’ he said.
Damola says that in using carbide to ripen fruits, it is not sprinkled on the fruits or vegetables, but dropped at the centre after arranging the fruits in circular form and then cover with cloth.
He adds that it is the heat generated by covering it with cloth that causes the fruits and vegetables to ripen within 20 hours to 24 hours.
An agricultural engineer and retired staff of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Umudike, Umuahia in Abia State, Mr Mba Agu, says it is not the duty of traders to apply agro pesticides like Sniper on gains, especially beans.
“The application of pesticides on any agricultural produce, especially on beans and other grains, is for agriculture professionals and not traders.
“Agriculture professionals are trained to apply agro pesticides and insecticides on agricultural produces in a way that it will not be harmful when consumed.
“The problem is that people think that they can use Sniper and any other pesticides on agricultural produce without the input of those trained to do so.
“All pesticides and insecticides are bad and dangerous, at the same time still useful when used in correct proportions.
“If wrongly used, they become hazardous and dangerous for consumption and become cause for an array of health issues,’’ he said.
Sniper is one of the agricultural pesticides used to control insects and pests on grains and seeds and other wide range of produce.
Sniper contains Dichlorovinyl Dimethyphosphate (DDVP) 1000mg, Sodium Sulphate and Enzymes as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Agu says there are three methods through which pesticides can be applied on beans and other produces for storage.
According to him, the pesticides are mixed in the material at recommended doses, sprayed around the warehouse for bulk storage or surface of the material in a container.
Agu believes that it is time pest control officers leave their comfort zones and enter the markets to sanitise the abuse of pesticides application on grains, especially beans.
He says it is time too that the National Agriculture Council dispatch its seed law enforcement officers to the markets to regularly take samples of grains for laboratory test and analyses.
For Dr John Olaoye, an agriculture engineer and lecturer, Department of Agriculture, University of Ilorin, farmers are and should always be encouraged to minimise the application of pesticides on beans, grains and other produce during storage.
“This is because during the planting stage, a lot of pesticides are used at flowering stage to protect it from pests.
“At the storage stage, it is advisable to use natural materials like pepper or by exposing the produce to oxygen.
“If you must use pesticides and there are residual content on the produce still remaining, it is still harmful,’’ he said.
Olaoye notes that the properties in DDVP pesticides were such that can vaporise.
According to him, if professionally applied, by the time of cooking at a boiling point of between 75 degree centigrade and 100 degree centigrade, the material will vaporise and will not be part of what is consumed.
“However, there are herbal formulations which are natural that can be used to prevent grains and other agricultural produce from pests and insects attack that were not harmful,’’ he said.
Olaoye says that since the market is the prerogative of the local government councils, the councils should revive their community and public health officers as was the case in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early part of 1980s.
He adds that it is not enough for the local government to collect levy and issue receipts without doing the work of sanitising what comes out from the markets and upgrading the market structures.
The Unilorin teacher says that the community and public health officials check traders, what they have in stock, how they are stored and displayed for sale to ensure they are good for consumption.
They also stamp animals before they are slaughtered for sell as meat in the markets, adding that they also visit houses and test water from public mains and boreholes from which the occupants are drinking.
According to him, it is a pity that community and public health officers are not part of our system any more. However, the sooner the community and public health workers are brought back, the better it will be for everybody. Therefore, it behoves the government, especially local government councils, to be up and doing to safeguard the health of the citizens.
Dr Ikechi Agbugba, a vegetable expert and lecturer, University of Port Harcourt, says the misuse of any chemical on agricultural produce is a killer.
“How on earth will anybody wash fruits and vegetables and any other produce with detergents? What happens to water and sponge?
“This happens because traders always prefer the easy way out.
“The government has to be proactive to be able to check the excesses of traders and food vendors by apprehending and prosecuting offenders,’’ he suggested.
According to him, it is better to wash fruits and vegetables with clean water and sponge.
Agbugba says research works have shown that traders and food vendors are ignorant of the implications of what they are doing. He notes that organising and encouraging traders to form associations and get those doing similar trading to register is the easy way to enlightening traders on this.
“The market crier is useful in reaching them and telling them how to improve on handling hygienically the wares they have for sale,’’ he said.
On the whole, the federal and state ministries of agriculture should deploy their seeds law enforcement officers and pest control officers to major markets and produce retail outlets to ensure that what they are selling is good for the body when consumed by unsuspecting consumers.
Agu is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

Chidinma Agu