Bananas require gas, that is — ethylene, to trigger the ripening process.
In the January 10-Minute Merchandiser in the Produce Retailer, I touched on some of the finer points of banana care, ordering and display basics. What I didn’t expound upon, and what could use some clarification, is what happens behind the scenes before bananas are shipped to a retail location.
Upon arrival at a ripening facility at a distribution point, bananas are subjected to an ongoing, carefully timed five-day process. The person in charge of banana ripening is nothing short of a scientist. Every load from every point of origin is unique in some way. It takes years of hands-on experience for the banana specialist to learn how to properly ripen this most-popular fruit.
On the first day, the bananas are dead green. It is necessary for them to be transported this way, but the fruit will not ripen without some help. On Day 1, green bananas are tested for temperature and fruit maturity. Then the fruit is placed into one of several specially designed ripening rooms. The banana specialist ventilates the room to a consistent humidity and holding temperature.
On Day 2, the specialist checks the pulp of banana samples again. If all is well, the banana load is given a prescribed amount of ethylene gas. Note: Ethylene is normal byproduct given off from fruits and vegetables and is not a liquid. The ethylene mix circulates throughout all the cartons inside the sealed ripening room and remains so overnight.
When Day 3 arrives, the specialist flushes the ethylene out of the room, ventilating it with normal atmosphere. The load is held at the same 60-62 degrees that continues through the ripening process. The fruit is still green but has now been “triggered” to ripen.
On Day 4, the fruit remains in its green state, but throughout the day, begins to “break” in color. At this point the specialist monitors the fruit like a mother hen, waiting for the fruit to turn.
By Day 5, the fruit typically is ready to ship to retailers. The bananas ideally ship at a 2½ to 3 stage, which is slightly more green than yellow, but within hours and in transit to the store, the fruit will ripen at a more rapid rate.
Since the ripening bananas generate heat, it’s important for clerks at the receiving store to take lids the banana boxes and air stack the cases to slow the late-stage ripening. At this point the bananas are yellow to yellow with green tips and ready for sale.