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Kimberly Egan

Quality Insider

Watermelons Are Sensitive

Exploding fruit object to forchlorfenuron overdoses in China

Published: Friday, September 30, 2011 - 09:13

Last May, the director of the vegetable research institute at the Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science in Qingdao, China, told the media that the Chinese government does not encourage farmers to use plant hormones on watermelons because watermelons “are very sensitive.”

The Chinese have learned about watermelons in a hurry lately because watermelons all over the Chinese countryside have been exploding “like land mines.” The British media reported that Chinese watermelon fields were “erupting by the acre,” with melons blasting apart one by one. These reports, of course, intrigued the West. The U.S. National Watermelon Association reacted quickly and soberly. “I have never seen this phenomenon,” its executive director said.

But getting accurate information about fruit in China is not easy. The Fruit Industry Association of Guangdong tried but failed, informing the media that “most ‘imported’ fruits are grown in China.” And the Chinese hastily pointed out that 10 percent of all American watermelons also explode (they did not say why).

Eventually the fruit-consuming public learned that the sensitive Chinese watermelons were exploding because they had been over-exposed to forchlorfenuron. Forchlorfenuron is a plant hormone that does wonders for the size of the average Chinese watermelon when applied at the right time under the right conditions. When mishandled, the hormone gets carried away and decimates its host melon in a pulpy, seedy, gooey melon spectacle. The Chinese exploding-watermelon farmers were apparently all first-time watermelon entrepreneurs, and perhaps they did not follow the proper watermelon hormone directions.

But we can’t criticize the Chinese for using it. The U.S. government allows farmers to use forchlorfenuron on grapes. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that consuming a florchlorfeuron-treated grape will blow up a human being. But consider wearing a face guard next time you visit your local winery.

The Chinese aren’t the only ones with exploding food experiences. Nazis experimented with this during World War II to try to break the Britons. The best idea by far was the experimental exploding Smedley’s English Grown Plums can. The Nazis also came up with combustive chocolate bars and incendiary frozen eggs. History does not record whether the Nazis deployed these weapons.

I am sure I am not the only who finds the idea of exploding fruits and vegetables delightful. I regret that I was not standing in a Chinese watermelon field during the May bombardments, and I would have liked to be on the anti-exploding-Smedley’s-plums detail in British intelligence.

So I did some research and learned how to make my own exploding fruit extravaganza at home. You can make a lemon explode by stuffing it full of mints and dropping it into a cup of club soda. You can obliterate an orange by putting it in a microwave without piercing its rind. You can annihilate any fruitcake by saturating it in a healthy volume of rum and baking it in the oven. Apply more rum as needed. Etc.

As for the Chinese watermelons, the farmers fed them to their pigs. Pork lo mein, anyone?

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP.

This article first appeared on the AssurX blog.

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About The Author

Kimberly Egan’s picture

Kimberly Egan

Kimberly Egan is a litigation and regulatory lawyer with a background in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation and advice, Consumer Product Safety Commission work, food safety counseling and litigation, and commercial and mass tort litigation. Her food work has included risk-management planning and strategic assessments related to obesity claims, litigation analyses in connection with an acquisition of a company manufacturing dietary supplements, advice on FDA’s food additive and food contact regulations, advice on FDA’s Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) regulations, and general advice on food safety issues, product recalls, and supply-chain rationalization. She is a regular contributor to the AssurX blog.