Photo: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, 2013.
The banana is the world’s most consumed fruit and is subject to a specific ripening process before being ready for consumption. If the ripening is done under controlled conditions, the quality (even ripening with no imperfections such as black spots) and market value of the product increases as consumers are expecting to see on store shelves perfectly ripenned bananas. While the bananas are harvested in tropical locations such as Costa Rica or Thailand, ripening commonly takes place close to the market in specialized facilities or increasingly in large grocery distribution centers that will include specifically designed rooms. There are available technologies that can enable ripening during transport in a refrigerated container, but at this point, their use appears to be marginal.
Cartoons of green (unripened) bananas are commonly imported in reefers at 13 degrees Celsius. After being brought to a specialized facility or grocery distribution center, the cartoons are loaded into the sealed ripening room (colloquially known as “banana room”) with the temperature controlled to 17 degrees Celsius. Ethylene, a natural ripening agent, is pumped into the room (at 1 ppm) and left for 24 hours. The ethylene is then ventilated out of the room, and the bananas are left to ripen for three to four days, depending on their initial condition and the ripening level the customer would like. The ripened bananas are then ready to be delivered to grocery stores.