Through its notification dated 3 May 2016 the FSSAI has proposed some changes to the regulation ‘Prohibition and Restriction on sale of certain products’ in the sub regulation dealing with the use of Ethylene gas for ripening of fruits. The FSSAI has also invited suggestions and objections within a period of 30 days from the date of publication of the notice. Once published in the Official Gazette the regulation will be called the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Amendment Regulations, 2016.
In the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations, 2011, the regulations restricted the use of carbide gas in ripening of fruits. The FSSAI had also restricted the sale and storage for the purpose of sale any fruit that had been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas, commonly known as carbide gas. In the proposed amendment the FSSAI has added a proviso to the existing regulation which says that;
“Provided that fruits may be artificially ripened by use of Ethylene gas at a concentration up to 100 ppm (0.01%) depending upon the crop, variety and maturity”
About Ethylene gas and fruit ripening
Ethylene is a small naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas in plants but it can also occur as a result of combustion and other processes. It can also be produced when plants are injured mechanically or through disease. Ethylene is also known as the aging hormone but it can have both positive and negative impact on plants. Early Egyptians used to gash figs to induce ripening. The ethylene produced by the injured fruit tissue triggers a ripening response. Similarly, the ancient Chinese practice of burning incense in closed rooms with stored pears ripened the fruit because ethylene is released as a by-product of incense combustion.
Ethylene can produce a number of effects on plants depending on their age and sensitivity to ethylene. Ethylene can cause either good or bad effects and include
- fruit ripening
- loss of chlorophyll
- dying of certain plant parts
- stem shortening,
- shedding of various parts of plants such dropping a leaf, fruit, flower, or seed
- Bending of stems
- Ethylene can cause damage to various crops
- yellowing of vegetables,
- bud damage in dormant nursery stock
The use of carbine gas or ethylene gas for ripening therefore depends on whether the crop naturally produces a lot of ethylene and if it is responsive to ethylene. Responsiveness will depend on
- the type of crop,
- the stage of plant maturity
- concentration of ethylene used
- duration of exposure
There are also treatments for managing internal ethylene concentration and that is the key to storage life and the ripening of the fruit for eating. Ethylene gas is used to ripen tomatoes, bananas, avocados, mangoes, pears, and a few other fruits after they have reached the level of ‘commercial maturity’ which is a stage just before ripening has begun. Fruit is placed in special ripening rooms where ripening is then conducted in controlled temperatures and relative humidity. Ethylene is released in prescribed concentrations. When fruit are exposed to ethylene under these controlled conditions they begin their climatic respiratory pattern and ripen at a uniform rate.