Toxic effects of Calcium Carbide as fruit ripening agent

Different ripening agents are used worldwide for ripening of fruits like calcium carbide, acetylene, propylene, ethanol, ethylene, glycol, ethrel and many others. Among all these, most commonly used ripening agent is calcium carbide

Calcium carbide as fruit ripening agent

Fruits are important part of human diet for a balance diet as they have good nutritional value. Being an important food commodity, they are widely distributed worldwide. Their role in human nutrition is to regulate growth factors and maintaining normal health by exploding diabetics, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Some fruits are rich in fibers that help to release different cancer causing ions. Majority of fruits are eaten in ripened form only. Fruits undergo ripening process either during pre-harvesting period on plants or during post-harvesting time.

Ripening is an irreversible and genetically controlled process. Ripe fruit having desirable characteristics is produced after series of organoleptic, physical and chemical changes occurs during ripening phenomenon. Ripening is necessary as per market demand, consumer acceptability and for economic benefits.

Fruit ripening agents

Different ripening agents are used worldwide for ripening of fruits like calcium carbide, acetylene, propylene, ethanol, ethylene, glycol, ethrel and many others. Among all these, most commonly used ripening agent is calcium carbide but its use is discouraged due to its health hazards effects as it contains traces of phosphorus and arsenic.

Calcium carbide dissolved in water produces acetylene gas. Phosphorus, arsenic and acetylene gas leads to number of health problems like memory loss, mood disturbances, mental confusion, prolonged hypoxia, headache, seizures, sleepiness, cerebral edema, and dizziness. Above mentioned ripening agents are used to hasten the ripening process but in some cases to need to delayed the ripening process.

Of-season availability of fruits is possible by storing them in modified or controlled atmospheric condition but this leads to show undesirable characteristics like poor eating quality, off-flavor and poor color. Calcium salts like calcium chloride, calcium ammonium nitrate and calcium sulfate are available in market to reduce production of said undesirable characteristics as they delayed the ripening phenomenon in fruits and vegetables.

Delayed ripening agents maintain fruit’s organoleptic properties like skin color, pulp color, skin shriveling, taste, flavor and aroma of fruits as compared to controlled fruit ripening.

Toxic effects of Calcium Carbide

Studies showed that treatment of fruits with calcium carbide results in hastening the ripening process as by increasing the rate of respiration, color, softening, and flavor changes. Calcium carbide has benefit of its ability to hasten the ripening process but its use is discouraged worldwide due to its side effects to human health.

It is still most commonly used ripening agent due to economic price and market availability. Calcium carbide is associated with explosion and carries toxic elements like phosphorus and arsenic to consumer, hence making the nutritious fruit poisonous.

When mixed with water it produces acetylene gas which has characteristic parallel to ethylene, causative to trigger ripening phenomenon. Industries are trying to produce ripening agents which didn’t carry any hazardous effect. Calcium carbide is hazardous for aquatic life even in low concentration. Its high dose or direct contact to sensitive parts of body leads to severe disorders.

Effects of calcium carbide and their preventions

Eye contact

Direct contact of calcium carbide with eyes cause severe irritation and burns. Its contact with eye exerts effect on eyesight or may leads permanent blindness. It may cause watering of eyes, severe burns, inflammation of eyelids, scarring, stinging pain and opacity.


Make sure the used of safety goggles or preventive eyeglasses. If calcium carbide comes in contact with eyes, wash immediately with water for 15 minutes continuously. Remove contact lens if wearing.

Skin Contact

Calcium carbide in contact with skin causes inflammation, burning feeling, skin irritation, and severe burns. Especially if skin if moist or wet its contact may cause severe irritation and burns. Its contact with moist skin can cause scarring and ulceration. Long term or repeated contact may lead to skin dryness and rashes.


Wash immediately the affected part of skin with fresh water for 15 minutes continuously. Remove the clothes from where calcium carbide gets into contact. Make sure to wear gloves before using calcium carbide to avoid direct contact with hands.


If somebody mistakenly eats calcium carbide it will cause serious disorder due to its toxic effect. It will results in headache, nausea, respiratory disorder, vomiting, bloating and gastrointestinal disorders.


Calcium should be properly labeled to avoid any mistaken ingestion. If victim is conscious then give 2-3 cups of milk or water nut if victim is unconscious then never try to give any oral medication.


Inhalation of calcium carbide is common in countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other developing countries because people use to smell the aroma of fruit and at the same they are inhaling calcium carbide from the fruit. intake of calcium carbide can cause lungs oedema. Irritation in mouth, nose, and throat are initial symptoms. Continuous inhalation cause chronic bronchitis. Headache, vomiting, irregular breathing, and burns in chest are common symptoms.


Don’t allow calcium carbide in open air. Move victim from the effected environment. If victim feels difficulty in breathing then use oxygen pumps.

First aid treatment

First aid required in the protection of calcium carbide prevention is to wear gloves while handling it. Use goggles while dealing with calcium carbide especially in laboratory. Proper clothing can protect our body to come in contact with it. When calcium carbide comes in contact with moisture/water, it produces combustible gasses. So, availability of fire extinguisher should be ensured. If person feels suffocation immediately move to open area. If victim is unconscious CPR should be provided on flat solid surface.

Arsenic compounds

Naturally occurring element arsenic is carried by calcium carbide. Its combination with oxygen and other elements produces inorganic arsenic compound. Its application includes the making of glass, fungicides and pesticides. It can dissolve in water and enter in food.

Heavy metals are dangerous for health; their specific dose can have mobility and mortality effects. Arsenic when exposed at high level in people can cause vomiting, nausea, anemia, low blood pressure, and diarrhea. Victim may get feeling of pins and needles in feet and hands.

People exposed to arsenic for long term can suffer from neuropathy, headache, stomach ailments, dark splotches on the skin, fatigue, and soles of the feet. Inorganic arsenic compound is more like to cause cancer of liver, skin, kidney, prostate, lung, and bladder.

Intentionally or unintentionally intake of Arsenic is likely to commit suicide. Its exposure cause central and peripheral neuropathies, gastrointestinal irritation, and edema of eyelids. First antidote for metal poisoning was arsenic.

Phosphorus compounds

Phosphorus is another metal compound carried by calcium carbide. Intake of phosphorus can leads to some health hazards. Its chronic effect is not studied yet. Its oral administration can cause osmotic diarrhea. Some mild effects like vomiting, nausea and other gastrointestinal problems are reported. Phosphorus has no adverse effect on growth and reproduction. High phosphorus intake may lead to bone resorption in women and older people.

Identification of Fruits ripened by Calcium Carbide

Features/Characteristics Naturally RipenedCalcium Carbide Ripened
ColorFruits have different shades of colorFruits are of same color
TextureFruit texture is softTexture is tough/hard
TasteSweet in tasteBitter taste is produced
AromaFruits have natural aromaLess aroma is present in such fruits


Artificial ripening agents are injurious to health. Regulatory authorities should take serious actions against the people using them in fruit ripening. Heavy fines should be implemented on such people. One should properly wash fruits before eating with tap water.

Fruits should be peeled before eating. Cut fruits from open markets should be avoided. Consumers should be aware by the use of artificially ripened fruits.

This article is jointly authored by Nayyar Iqbal, Muhammad Azam and Usama Asif, from University of Agriculture Faisalabad.

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