Consumers believe they are better equipped to judge the ripeness of bananas, compared to other fresh produce, but they are likely unaware of the high-tech ripening processes bananas undergo before they hit retail shelves.

According to The Packer’s 2012 Fresh Trends survey, released in late February, 78% of consumers responding said they felt comfortable selecting ripe bananas at the store. No other commodity scored that high.

The survey also revealed seven out of 10 banana consumers said they know how to ripen the fruit at home. Despite that, research and development of better ripening techniques continues, with an eye on allowing retailers to better manage their banana programs.

Banana ripening technology advancesAt Dade Service Corp., Daytona Beach, Fla., flexibility is a driving force when it comes to banana ripening rooms. Using Daserco brand patented pressurized ripening systems, Dade builds customized ripening facilities.

Banana ripening technology advancesAshley Perryman, marketing and sales coordinator at Dade, said banana ripening rooms can be built in one-, two- or three-tier configurations.

The rooms can be built to handle from one to 100 pallets of bananas. Single- and dual-control options are available, and a rapid-cool feature provides increased flexibility.

One example of the tarpless Dade ripening rooms in use is Coast Tropical, Los Angeles, where a 50-room ripening facility is located, Perryman said. Chiquita Brands, Cincinnati, also uses Dade ripening rooms.

Cutting ripening costs

Even with custom-sized rooms, Jim Still of Global Cooling Inc., said ripening costs can be better managed with the use of ethylene sensors. Still said ethylene sensors are the next step in the evolution of banana ripening.

Banana ripening technology advances“Using sensors to gas bananas or other fruit to 100 parts per million — some are going as low as 20 ppm — saves on ethylene costs, and prevents excess gas from contaminating other products in the warehouse,” Still said.

Still said the sensors are not yet widely used in the U.S. but are common in the European Union and elsewhere.

“Our customers in South Korea and Australia, and Coliman Pacific in Phoenix are all using ethylene sensors to control gassing with great success,” Still said.

Banana ripening technology advances“There has been a bit of a learning curve, in that the sensors need to be recalibrated periodically, but that small inconvenience is helping to preserve tens of thousands of dollars of value in preserving freshness of other stored produce in the same warehouse.”

In addition to the ethylene sensors, Still and Global Cooling Inc., Media, Pa., have developed a portable ripening unit used in Jamaica.

The portable units are made by converting a 40-foot refrigerated container into a 10-pallet ripening unit. The conversion costs about $25,000 per 40-foot unit.

“This is an extremely competitive price for 10-pallet ripening capability,” Still said.

“We have a lot of interest from developing countries, especially India, but interest from the U.S. has been slow to build.”