ETHYLENE FACTSEthylene is a natural plant hormone.
It affects the growth, development, ripening, and senescence (aging)
of all plants. It is normally produced in small quantities by most fruits and vegetables.
produce larger quantities of ethylene and respond with uniform ripening when exposed to
source of ethylene.Ethylene is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)
by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Given the numerous amounts of food substances, the FDA does not categorize every one. Salt, pepper and vinegar are examples. These, along with ethylene, all are within the category of food substances that, when used for the purposes indicated, in accordance with good manufacturing practice, are regarded by the FDA as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for such uses.Calcium Carbide is NOT safe for ripening.
Calcium Carbide is used in some countries as source of acetylene gas, which is an artificial ripening agent. However, acetylene is not nearly as effective for ripening as is ethylene, and acetylene is not a natural plant hormone like ethylene. Also, calcium carbide may contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus, both highly toxic to humans, and the use of this chemical for ripening is illegal in most countries.Ethylene has been found not harmful or toxic
to humans in the concentrations found in ripening rooms.
fact, ethylene was used medically as a anesthetic in concentrations significantly greater
than that found in
a ripening room. However, ethylene is often targeted as the reason for difficulty in
breathing in ripening
rooms; what can affect some people is usually either:
a) Carbon Dioxide (CO2
, is produced
by the ripening fruit in the room and levels increase over time, or
b) Oxygen levels: The
oxygen in the
room when loaded is taken in by the ripening fruit. This sometimes will make breathing
in a ripening
room difficult. The increased CO2
, and decreased oxygen levels are the main reasons for
ripening room.Ethylene action slows at lower temperatures.
minimum temperature levels, fruit
is basically inactive and does not respond well to externally supplied ethylene.Ethylene will penetrate most substances.
In fact, it will
permeate through produce cardboard shipping
boxes, wood and even concrete walls.Ethylene is harmful to many fruits, vegetables, and floral items.
ethylene is invaluable due to its
ability to initiate the ripening process in several fruits, it can also be very harmful to
vegetables, flowers, and plants by accelerating the aging process and decreasing the
product quality and
shelf life. The degree of damage depends upon the concentration of ethylene, length of
exposure time, and
product temperature. One of the following methods should be used to ensure that
produce is not exposed:
Ethylene producing items (such as apples, avocados,
peaches, pears, and tomatoes) should be stored separately from ethylene-sensitive ones
cabbage, cauliflower, leafy greens, lettuce, etc.). Also, ethylene is emitted by engines.
and gasoline powered engines all produce ethylene in amounts large enough to cause
damage to the
ethylene-sensitive produce items mentioned;Ethylene is explosive at high concentrations.
- Ventilate the storage area, preferably to
the outside of
the warehouse, on a continuous or regular basis to purge the air of any ethylene;
- Remove ethylene with
ethylene absorbing filters. These have been proven in reducing and maintaining low
ethylene levels. If
ethylene damage is suspected, a quick and easy way to detect ethylene levels is with hand
tubes. This will indicate if the above steps should be followed.
At 27,000 ppm, just a spark can ignite ethylene and cause a deadly explosion. We have an entire section of our web site devoted to the explosions that can result from excessive ethylene: ethylene explosions
when using our products as directed, reaching the explosive level is not possible. The explosive level is about 200
times greater than the level necessary to initiate ripening. Always use our generators in ripening rooms that is are 1500 ft3
or larger (43 m3
).Ethylene is used to 'degreen' citrus.
This is a
natural process that triggers pigment changes: the loss of
green peel color by removing the chlorophyll, which allows the orange or yellow to fully
cover the entire
peel. No loss of flavor is caused; this is merely a continuation of the natural plant
The following are common questions about the use of ethylene gas in the ripening process.
The material is reprinted from a fact sheet that has been available to the industry for many years.What is the effect of ethylene on fruit ripening?
Ethylene can promote ripening in tomatoes, bananas, citrus, pineapples, dates,
persimmons, pears, apples, melons, mangos, avocados, papayas and jujubes - a clear
indication that the action of ethylene is general and widespread amongst a number of
fruits. It is clear that ethylene is a ripening hormone - a chemical substance produced by
fruits with the specific biological phenomenon of accelerating the normal process of fruit
maturation and senescence.Is ethylene a harmful compound or toxic to human health in any way?
No! In fact, ethylene was used historically as an important anesthetic until less flammable
compounds were developed. It is a colorless gas with a sweet ether-like odor. As an
anesthetic, it was used as a concentration of 85% with 15% oxygen. Ethylene is a
hydrocarbon gas and quite flammable and explosive at concentrations above about 3%.
Remember, a non-toxic anesthetic for humans at a concentration of 85% or higher, yet as
a fruit ripening hormone, ethylene gas is effective at 0.1 to 1 ppm. One part of ethylene
per million parts of air that's one cupful of ethylene gas in 62,000 gallons of air - is
enough to promote the ripening process in fruits.What do you mean 'promote' the ripening process?
Using tomatoes as an example, the life of a tomato fruit begins with fertilization of the
flower ovules. After fertilization, the young fruit goes through a short period of cell
division which is then followed by a rapid period of growth as these cells enlarge.
During the final stages of growth and development, the tomato fruit reaches its full size
and is now mature. This period of growth and development, from fertilization to
development of the mature fruit, requires about 45-55 days, depending on the cultivar and
the season. During the growth and development period, there are many chemical and
physical changes occurring that have an impact on fruit quality and ripening behavior
after harvest. Ripening is the final stage of the maturation process when the fruit changes
color, and develops the flavor, texture and aroma that makes up what we define as
optimum eating quality. The biological agent that initiates this ripening process after the
fruit is mature is naturally produced ethylene - this simple plant hormone described and
understood over 40years ago. While there are other factors involved in this "triggering"
of the ripening process by ethylene, it is essentially a universal ripening hormone. When
this internal concentration of naturally produced ethylene increases to about 0.1 - 1.0
ppm, the ripening process is irreversibly initiated. The process may be slowed, but it
cannot be reversed once it is truly under way. So, here is the key point: additional and
externally applied ethylene, provided prior to the time that the naturally produced internal
concentration reaches the required 0.1 - 1.0 ppm level, will trigger or initiate - "promote"
if you will - this natural ripening process at an earlier time.Doesn’t this still amount to an 'artificial' process?
No! The additional externally applied ethylene (the "gassing" so frequently referred to in
the popular press) merely accelerates the normal ripening process. Numerous studies
have shown that there are no important biochemical, chemical, or physiological
differences between fruit ripened where the naturally produced ethylene has been the
triggering mechanism or where additionally externally applied ethylene has triggered the
process in the mature but unripe fruit.Nevertheless, doesn't the use of ethylene still allow the trade to 'cheat' the consumer with
an inferior product?
For example, tomato fruit are not and cannot be "artificially reddened" by ethylene. The
normal tomato ripening process, which includes pigment changes - the loss of green
chlorophyll and conversion of carotenoids into red lycopene pigments - can be
accelerated and brought about earlier by externally applied ethylene, but this is a normal
process. In fact, some of the components of nutritional quality, such as Vitamin C
content, benefit because of the fact that the fruits will be consumed after a shorter time
interval from harvest as a result of ethylene treatments and hence, the initial level will not
have degraded as far as the longer, unaccelerated process.What are the factors that result in the poor quality tomatoes we often see on the market?
Although many factors could be listed, there are four which play the dominant role in
determining the quality of tomato fruits presented to the customer in the retail store:
- maturity at time of harvest
- storage temperature during shipping and
handling (this is probably the most common cause; tomatoes are often shipped or stored at improper temperatures, which causes severe taste loss...never allow tomato pulp temperature to go below 55°F!)
- physical damage
Source: California Fresh Market Advisory Board, Informational Bulletin No. 12
, June 1,