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Exotic Fruit – Not That Exotic and Better Than Imagined

Report from a day in the lab

Ellen Scherbaum, Hanna Marks

 

It was only a few decades ago that they were really exotic, the fruits that came from the tropics and subtropics. The typical menu those days was oriented toward what grew locally and what was in season. Pome fruits such as apples and pears, berries like strawberries and currants, stone fruits such as cherries and mirabelles and - something very special – citrus fruit in the winter, from the mediterranean; those were the types of fruit commonly eaten.

In the meantime, the world has gotten smaller, and our plates are filled with fruits grown the world over. Strawberries are available throughout the year and exotic fruits have become commonplace. That they originally came from afar and were something very special has practically been forgotten.

In the European Union only specific pesticide substances are authorized, and these only for specific applications. If the goods come from so-called third countries, however, different substances may also be found in our fruits. Good reason for us to take a closer look at the most common exotic fruits.

 

Ship or airplane – a good question for fruit as well

Exotic fruits still come from long distances. To keep the prices as low as possible, the fruits are harvested while still unripe, and then transported in cooled ship containers, in a so-called controlled atmosphere (CA storage). This helps prevent the goods from rotting during the often long trips. When the goods arrive they are ripened in special ripening rooms; green bananas are turned yellow, and dark green mangoes are made red-yellow and soft. An appropriate atmosphere is created, which speeds up the ripening process (see Info Box). Storage in a controlled atmosphere is also used for apples, pears and kiwis, to mention just a few, as this is the only way to make possible the availability of such fruits during the whole year. Exotic fruit that ripens on the vine can only be sent by air, and a hefty price is to be paid: a mango flown in by plane costs 5 Euros or more.

 

Info Box

CA Storage

The shelf life of fruit depends on several factors: temperature, time, the amount of oxygen, nitrogen and CO2 in the surrounding atmosphere, the amount of ethylene in the atmosphere, and humidity.

CA storage began in 1950 with apples; fruit is stored in conditions of low temperature, high humidity, low oxygen and increased CO2. Another possibility for extending the shelf life of fruit involves the removal of the natural „ripening gas“ ethylene or the blockage of ethylene receptors [1].

 

Ripening Enclosures

For bananas there has long been the ripening chamber. After transporting the bananas in „sleep modus“, the bananas arrive green, hard and starchy. Over the next 5 to 7 days they are put through a ripening process in computer-driven ripening chambers where the temperature is controlled and the ripening gas ethylene is piped in. The starch is transformed into sugar and the color of the peel turns yellow. The ripening chamber is being used more and more for other fruits as well.

 

Pesticide Residues

Between 2015 and July 2019 a total of 736 samples of exotic fruit from conventional production were analyzed. Residues of one or more pesticide substances were detected in 636 of the samples (86 %). Exceedance of the legally permitted maximum levels for one or more substances occurred among 54 samples (7.3 %). An additional 20 samples contained chlorate in amounts above the maximum authorized level. Chlorate was used earlier as an herbicide, but is used today more for the disinfection of water (see Info Box).

Table 1 presents the residue situation for exotic fruits from conventional production.

 

Table 1: Residue situation for exotic fruit: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Year
No. of
Samples
With
Residues
No. Substances
per Sample
Samples with
Multiple Residues
Average
Quantity
(mg/kg)
Ave. Quantity
Excluding Fosetyl
(mg/kg)
2015
166
135 (81 %)
2.9
107 (64 %)
1.1
0.34
2016
175
150 (85 %)
3.1
113 (65 %)
1.5
0.45
2017
154
132 (85 %)
3.3
108 (70 %)
1.4
0.38
2018
157
140 (89 %)
3.3
113 (72 %)
1.5
0.42
2019
84
79 (94 %)
3.2
64 (76 %)
1.9
0.48

 

Info Box

Maximum Residue Level (MRL)

Maximum residue levels (MRLs) are not toxicological end points or limit values. They are derived from residue trials that are conducted under realistic conditions, after which a comparison is made between the expected residues and the toxicological limit values. This ensures that life-long consumption or even a single intake of the food does not pose any health hazard.
Maximum residue levels regulate the marketing of foods, and may not be exceeded. Any food containing residues above the MRL is not marketable and thus may not be sold. Not every exceedance of MRLs is associated with a health risk, however. It is important here to take a differentiated approach.

 

Source: BVL-Broschüre, Pflanzenschutzmittel – sorgfältig geprüft, verantwortungsvoll zugelassen, November 2009

 

Chlorate

Chlorates are effective as both herbicides and biocides. Since 2008, however, chlorate is no longer authorized for use as a pesticide* in the EU. Sodium chlorate may also no longer be used in biocide products.
The definition for „pesticide residues“ in Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005 also encompasses residues from pesticide substances in food (including substances no longer authorized) that have pathways other than from the use of plant protectant products (so-called dual-use substances), such as the case of chlorate in food. Chlorate is thereby covered by the EU-wide valid default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg, in accordance with Reg. (EC) No. 396/2005. In Germany 2017, maximums of 70 µg/l chlorate for long-term use and 200 µg/l chlorate for short-term dosages were established for drinking water when the disinfection could not be otherwise guaranteed**.
The presence of chlorate in food can result not only from its use as a pesticide, but also due to environmental pollution (contaminated sprinkling or irrigation water and soil), or as a residual of food production techniques, including methods used in farming, manufacturing, processing, preparation, or treatment. The application of biocides, from which chlorate can result, is another possible source of contamination. In general, chlorate can be formed as a by-product of the disinfection of drinking/ non-potable water with chloric gas, hypochlorite, or chlorine dioxide.
Chlorate inhibits, reversibly, the intake of iodine into the thyroid gland and can cause unwanted health effects, especially in sensitive people such as children, pregnant women, or people with thyroid dysfunction. In addition to affecting thyroid function, chlorate can also damage the erythrocytes (formation of methaemoglobin, haemolysis)***.
The member states are carrying out a monitoring program to determine the degree of food and drinking water contamination, in order to provide data for a toxicological evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Specific MRLs will then be established based on this information.

 

Sources: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) [1], European Commission [2]

 

* Commission Decision of 10 November 2008 concerning the non-inclusion of chlorate in Annex I to Council Directive 91/414/ECC and the withdrawal of authorizations for plant protection products containing that substance (OJ of the EU L307/7 of 18 November 2008)

** Chlorate in drinking water: 19. Bekanntmachung der Liste der Aufbereitungsstoffe und Desinfektionsverfahren gemäß § 11 der Trinkwasserverordnung

***Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Vorschläge des BfR zur gesundheitlichen Bewertung von Chloratrückständen in Lebensmitteln vom 12.05.2014 (downloaded on 06.02.2019)

 

Table 1 presents the residue situation for exotic fruits from 2015 until July 2019. There are two different average amounts of pesticides per sample given. The first column shows the amount of all analyzed pesticides found, and the second column excludes the fungicide fosetyl, as residues of this substances are often very high (MRLs up to 300 mg/kg fruit), which distorts the larger picture.


Exotic fruits do well in comparison with fruits in general. In 2018 the rate for all fruits containing residues was 95 %, with an average of 5.8 substances and 2.4 mg/kg per sample. Only the rate of MRL exceedances was lower during this time frame for all fruits, at 4.6 %, than for exotic fruits, at 7.3 % (see our report “Residues and Contaminants in Fresh Fruit from Conventional Cultivation, 2018“).

 

Usually the peeling is analyzed together with fruits and vegetables, even when it isn’t consumed. The background for this practice is that maximum residue levels are so established that foods grown in accordance with good agricultural practices are able to stay under these limits. Exotic fruits often have a thick outer covering that isn’t eaten; these include pineapples, bananas, pomegranates, kiwis, mangoes, maracujas and papayas. For the consumer, this means that the edible part of these fruits are often less contaminated with residues than the overall results presented here would suggest.   

 

In the next section individual exotic fruits with a high market share are described in more detail.

 

Pineapple

Photo: Pineapple.Ananas Comosus, Bromeliad

Most probably from Brazil, today this 2-year old rosette plant is cultivated throughout the tropics.

Imported in 2017: 148,000 tons, mainly from Costa Rica and Ecuador, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

In 2018 at least one pineapple was purchased by 33 % of households [2,3]; fully ripe fruit transported by air is also offered as “air freighted pineapples”.

 

Table 2 gives an overview of the residue situation for pineapples. A total of 79 samples were analyzed, mostly from Costa Rica, followed by Ghana. All of the analyzed samples contained residues. Frequently appearing substances included: fosetyl (sum), ethephon, prochloraz (sum), fludioxonil, diazinon, triadimenol, lambda-cyhalothrin, piperonyl butoxide, triadimefon, and methoxyfenozide. These are mainly insecticides and fungicides. The fungicide fosetyl (sum of fosetyl and phosphonic acid) was detectable in 78 of the 79 samples, the growth regulator ethephon in 54 samples. Prochloraz, triadimenol and triadimefon are often used after the harvest to prevent, for example, fungi from entering into the pulp of the fruit via a cut in the fruit. Ghana was notable for having a violation rate of 33 %, although the nine analyzed samples are not to be seen as representative.

 

Table 2: Residue situation for pineapples, 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Costa Rica
63
63 (100 %)
3 (4,8 %)
Chlorate, Chlorpyrifos, Carbaryl
Ghana
9
9 (100 %)
3 (33,3 %)
Diuron, Prochloraz (sum), Ethephon
Panama
3
3*
-
 
Honduras
1
1
-
 
Ivory Coast
1
1
-
 
Dom. Republic
1
1
1
Ethephon
Unknown
1
1
-
 
Total
79
79 (100 %)
7 (8,9 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Banana

Photo: Bananas.

Originating in the Asian tropics, today the banana is grown throughout the tropics. In addition to bananas eaten raw as fruit, there are also bananas for cooking, called plantains.
Imported in 2017: 1.4 million tons, mainly from Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

In 2018 bananas were purchased at least once by 86 % of households; average amount consumed: 12.4 kg/person/year [2,3].

 

 

Table 3 gives an overview of the residue situation for bananas. Our samples came mainly from South and Central America. All 46 analyzed samples contained residues. Frequently occurring substances included the following insecticides and fungicides: azoxystrobin, thiabendazol, fenpropimorph, chlorpyrifos, bifenthrin, imazalil, buprofezin, and myclobutanil. The fungicides thiabendazol, fenpropimorph and imazalil are mostly used after the harvest for protection during storage. All in all the situation for bananas looks good; only one sample contained chlorate in an amount above the maximum level.

 

Table 3: Residue situation for bananas: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Colombia
15
15 (100 %)
1 (6,7 %)
Chlorate
Costa Rica
11
11 (100 %)
-
 
Unknown
8
8 (100 %)
-
 
Ecuador
5
5 (100 %)
-
 
Nicaragua
3
3*
-
 
Suriname
1
1
-
 
Cameroon
1
1
-
 
Panama
1
1
-
 
Guatemala
1
1
-
 
Total
46
46 (100 %)
1 (2,2 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Fig

Photo: Figs.Ficus Carica, Moraceae

Originating in the Near East, today the winter-hardy types also flourish in Germany.

Imported in 2017: 8,700 tons, mainly from the Mediterranean. Large quantities of figs are also dried. This cultivated plant was found as early as 5,000 B.C. [2,3].

 

Table 4 gives an overview of the residue situation for figs. The 41 analyzed samples came mostly from Turkey and Italy. The residue situation is overwhelmingly positive; more than 50 % of the samples contained no residues at all. The number of different substances per sample was very low, at 0.6.

 

Table 4: Residue situation for figs: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Turkey
28
11 (39,3 %)
1 (3,6 %)
Ethephon
Italy
7
4 (57,1 %)
-
 
Brazil
4
3*
1
Dithiocarbamate
Spain
1
-
-
 
Abroad
1
-
-
 
Total
41
18 (43,9 %)
2 (4,9 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Pomegranate

Photo: Pomegranate.Punica Granatum, Punicaceae

Originating in Persia, today the pomegranate is grown throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Imported mainly from the Mediterranean region, including Spain and Turkey, as well as Iran, Israel, Peru and India. The pomegranate is a very important fruit in many cultures. It is a symbol, for example, of luck, prosperity and fertility [2,3].

 

Table 5 gives an overview of the residue situation for 113 analyzed pomegranate samples. The majority of samples came from Turkey. In the last few years these samples have been very conspicuous for their high rate of MRL exceedances, at 40 %. The situation was much better for other countries. The following substances were frequently found in the pomegranate samples: fosetyl (sum), fludioxonil, difenoconazol, acetamiprid, boscalid, chloranthraniliprol, imidacloprid, chlorpyrifos, carbendazim (sum), pyraclostrobin, lambda-cyhalothrin, pyriproxyfen, propiconazole, spirotetramat (sum), cyprodinil, and deltamethrin. These, too, are mostly fungicides and insecticides. At 4.4 substances per sample, the pomegranate is one of the more seriously contaminated exotic fruits. The rule is valid here, too: the peeling is analyzed together with the fruit, and the pomegranate juice has fewer residues.

 

Table 5: Residue situation for pomegranates: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL*
Turkey
45
44 (97,8 %)
18 (40 %)
Acetamiprid 8x; Boscalid 7x; Chlorpyrifos; Chlorthalonil; Cypermethrin, sum 3x; (Es)-Fenvalerat 3x; Fosetyl, sum 5x; Imazalil; Iprodion; Malathion, sum; Nicotine; Orthophenylphenol; Prochloraz, sum 2x; Propiconazole 2x; Pyraclostrobin; Sulfoxaflor; Tau-Fluvalinat; Thiabendazole
Peru
17
17 (100 %)
1 (5,9 %)
Fosetyl, sum
Spain
14
12 (85,7 %)
1 (7,1 %)
Difenoconazol; Lambda-Cyhalothrin
Israel
13
13 (100 %)
-
 
South Africa
9
9 (100 %)
1 (11,1 %)
Cyprodinil
Unknown
7
7 (100 %)
1 (14,3 %)
Acetamiprid; Cyfluthrin
India
6
6 (100 %)
2 (33,3 %)
Dodin; Fosetyl, sum
Argentinia
1
1**
-
 
Chile
1
1
-
 
Total
113
110 (97,3 %)
24 (21,2 %)
 

*Some samples contained more than one substance above the MRL

**No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Kaki, Sharon

Photo: Kakis.Diospyros Kaki, Ebenaceae

Originating in East Asia, today the kaki (persimmon) is grown throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Imported in 2017: 47,000 tons, mainly from Spain from October to April and mostly from South Africa from June to September.

Only fully ripe kaki can be eaten due to the high level of tannin [2,3] (see report: „Are All Kaki (Persimmons) the Same, or Are There Differences?“).

 

Table 6 gives an overview of the residue situation for kakis and sharons. Most of the 66 analzyed samples came from Spain. Kaki and sharon scored well, with 1.7 substances per
sample. Chlorate was the main culprit of MRL exceedance, which can occur as a result of water disinfection. Substances that were more frequently detected included the fungicide fosetyl (sum of fosetyl and phosphonic acid) and the insecticide lambda-cyhalothrin, as well as the growth regulator ethephon.

 

Table 6: Residue situation for kaki and sharon persimmons: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Spain
55
43 (78,2 %)
2 (3,6 %)
Chlorate; Fludioxonil
South Africa
7
7 (100 %)
3 (42,9 %)
Chlorate 3x
Unknown
2
2*
1
Chlorate
Israel
1
1
1
Chlorate
Italy
1
1
-
 
Total
66
54 (81,8 %)
7 (10,6 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Kiwi

Photo: Kiwis.Actinidia Chinensis, Actinidiaceae

Originating in Eastern China, today the kiwi is grown in many subtropical countries and to some extent in countries with mild climates.

Imported in 2017: 102,000 tons, mainly from Italy and New Zealand.

In 2018 kiwis were purchased at least once by 53 % of households [2,3].

 

Table 7 gives an overview of the residue situation for kiwis. A total of 89 samples were analyzed, mainly from Italy and New Zealand. With a rate of 2.5 substances per sample and only 2 % in violation, the residue situation gets good marks. Frequently detected substances were fosetyl (sum), fludioxonil, forchlorfenuron, iprodion and fenhexamid. These are substances used for mildew; only fenchlorfenuron is a growth regular, which enlarges the size of kiwis, table grapes and peaches. In 2011 this substance made it into the news after an improper application in melons in China caused them to explode [4].

 

Table 7: Residue situation for kiwis: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Italy
54
53 (98,1 %)
2 (3,7 %)
Chlorpyrifos-methyl; Chlorate
New Zealand
23
17 (73,9 %)
-
 
Greece
5
5 (100 %)
-
 
France
3
3 *
-
 
Unknown
2
2
-
 
Chile
1
1
-
 
Belgium
1
1
-
 
Total
89
82 (92,1 %)
2 (2,2 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Mango

Photo: Mangos.Mangifera indica, Anacardiaceae

Originating in the Indian-Burmese region, today the mango is grown in many tropical countries. It is prized as a shade and fruit tree.

Imported in 2017: 87,000 tons (mango plus guave), mainly from South America and Africa.

In 2018 mangos were purchased at least once by 40 % of households [2,3].

 

Most of the analyzed samples came from Brazil and Peru, but the overall range of countries from which they came was especially diverse. Fully ripe fruits transported to us by airplane are considered very aromatic, and are offered as „air freighted mangos”. Table 8 gives an overview of the residue situation for mangos.

 

Table 8: Residue situation for mangoes: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL
Peru
47
46 (97,9 %)
4 (8,5 %)
Ethephon 2x; Fosetyl, sum; Omethoate
Brazil
37
37 (100 %)
3 (8,1 %)
Glyphosate; Flutriafol; Chlorate
Unknown
14
13 (92,9 %)
1 (7,1 %)
Nicotine
Spain
13
11 (84,6 %)
1 (7,7 %)
Fosetyl, sum
Ivory Cost
11
8 (72,7 %)
-
 
Israel
8
8 (100 %)
-
 
USA
3
3*
1
Chlorate
Dom. Republic
2
2
-
 
Mali
2
1
-
 
South Africa
2
2
1
Fosetyl, sum
Mexico
1
1
-
 
Other America
1
1
-
 
Senegal
1
-
-
 
Africa
1
1
1
Chlorpyrifos
Egypt
1
1
1
Ethephon
Total
144
135 (93,8 %)
13 (9 %)
 

*No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Similar to citrus fruits, mangos are often treated with fungicides after the harvest. Notification of this treatment isn’t required, however, because the outer skin of mangoes is not generally eaten. The most frequently detected substances were prochloraz and thiabendazol, though these were mainly found on the peeling, followed by the fungicides fosetyl, azoxystrobin and carbendazim. Insecticides and growth regulators were also detected with frequency. Mangoes contained an average of 3.1 substances per sample and had a rate of 9 % exceedances of the MRL in this analytical timeframe.

 

Maracuja, Passion Fruit

Photo: Maracujas.Passiflora edulis, Passifloraceae

The maracuja originates in South America, but today this evergreen climbing plant is grown world-wide in tropical and subtropical countries.

Imported in 2017: 9,500 tons, mainly from Ecuador and Colombia.

Its pulp is not firm, but rather a fluid mesh of embedded, edible seeds, and is highly aromatic [2,3].

 

Table 9 gives an overview of the residue situation for maracujas. Our samples came mainly from Colombia and South Africa. Excluding the problem with chlorate, most of the MRL exceedances were from the Colombian maracujas. The most commonly found fungicides were also here: azoxystrobin, tebuconazole, fosetyl (sum), trifloxystrobin and difenoconazole. Passion fruits contained an average of 3.8 substances per sample; 33 % exceeded the MRL in this analytical timeframe. More than half of the exceedances were due to chlorate, but with the exclusion of chlorate, the rate is still 15 %.

 

Table 9: Residue situation for Maracujas: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL*
Colombia
14
14 (100 %)
5 (35,7 %)
Chlorate; Dinotefuran; Fipronil, sum; Difenoconazol; Fosetyl, sum 3x; Chlorthalonil; Dithiocarbamate; Lambda-Cyhalothrin
South Africa
10
9 (90 %)
4 (40 %)
Chlorate 3x; Fosetyl, sum
Ghana
5
2 (40 %)
1 (20 %)
Chlorate
Zimbabwe
1
1**
-
 
Unknown
1
-
-
 
Vietnam
1
-
-
 
Laos
1
1
1
Chlorate
Total
33
27 (81,8 %)
11 (33,3 %)
 

*Some samples contained more than one substance above the MRL

**No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Papaya

Photo: Papayas.Carica papaya, Melonenbaumgewächse

The papaya stems from Central America and the Caribbean Islands, and is cultivated today throughout the tropics. Imported in 2017: 12,000 tons, mostly from Ecuador, Brazil and Africa.

Unripe fruits are prepared like vegetables, while the ripe fruit pulp tastes sweet and is intensified by the addition of citrus juice [2,3].

 

Table 10 gives an overview of the residue situation for papayas. Our samples came mostly from Ghana and Brazil. Especially noteworthy: the fruits from Ghana were practically free of residues, while the Brazilian papayas contained an average of 6.4 substances per sample and 5 out of 11 samples were registered as exceeding the maximum residue level.

 

Table 10: Residue situation for papayas: 2015 to July 2019 (CVUA S)
Origin
No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
>MRL (%)
Substances >MRL*
Ghana
12
2 (16,7 %)
-
 
Brazil
11
11 (100 %)
5 (45,5 %)
Fosetyl, sum 2x; Ethephon; Mandipropamid; Propamocarb; Chlorate
Ecuador
2
2**
-
 
Spain
2
2
1
Chlorate
Jamaica
1
1
-
 
Unknown
1
-
-
 
Total
29
18 (62,1 %)
6 (20,7 %)
 

*Some samples contained more than one substance above the MRL

**No percentage calculated for sample sizes < 5

 

Our conclusion

Even when they come from afar, exotic fruits from conventional production often have fewer residues of plant protection substances than local fruits. Although the rate of samples containing residues is relatively high, at 86 %, similar to other conventional fruits, the number of different substances in each sample was comparably low. There were some exceedances of the legal maximum levels, but these differ greatly according to the country of origin. The fruits with good results included bananas, figs, kakis, kiwis in general, and papayas from Ghana. Not so good in this analytical timeframe were pomegranates from Turkey, papayas from Brazil and maracujas from Colombia.

 

Photo Credits

Pesticide laboratory, CVUA Stuttgart.

 

References

[1] Robert K. Prange et al, Innovation in controlled atmosphere technology, 2005 Stewart Postharvest Solutions (Uk) Ltd, Online ISSN 1945-9656

[2] Rolf Blancke, Farbatlas Exotische Früchte, Ulmer Verlag 2000, ISBN 3-8001-3520-5

[3] Dr. Hans-Christoph Behr, AMI Markt Bilanz Obst 2019, Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft mbH Bonn, ISSN 1869-8891

[4] Spiegel Online: Explodierende Melonen entsetzen Landwirte, downloaded on 26.08.2019

 

Translated by Catherine Leiblein.

 

Report published on 18.11.2019 10:51:06

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