Go Bananas: How Ripening Rooms Help Make Great Tasting Plantains

May 29, 2012 - Article reads in
Banana Business

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but a banana a day will make you a seriously happy camper. Ever wonder how your bunch of bananas goes from the fields to your fruit bowl, ripe and ready to eat?

Making sure you don’t get any mushed or brown bananas in your shopping cart is no monkey business—it’s food science. Below, Target team member Scott Wadsworth maps out a banana’s journey through state-of-the-art ripening rooms. These specially constructed rooms expose bananas to a controlled atmosphere that helps foster the ripening process by adding a naturally produced plant hormone (ethylene gas) already found in fruit.

Read on below for the corresponding steps

1. Home sweet home: Bananas are grown in Central America, in countries like Guatemala and Ecuador. Here, they are picked in the fields and processed, which means they are cut up into bunches, washed and packaged into a box to ship overseas.

2. The stages: We pick up a truck full of unripe bananas each and every day from a port north of L.A. These bananas are coming to us at stage 1 or stage 2—what we call a hard, green banana. Fun fact: if you pound a stage 1 or 2 banana on a table, it will sound like a hammer.

3. Travel time: Bananas are shipped on a trailer in about 58 degrees, so that we’re not heating up or cooling down the bananas. This way, we avoid bananas with brown spots or chill damage.

4. Inspection: As soon as the shipment comes in, we unload the trailer. Our quality control team does a full inspection on the bananas, making sure they’re the right color and right temperature.

5. Banana ripening rooms: We take the hard green banana and place it into a banana ripening room (we have 10 rooms in the main building), where we will add ethylene gas. The same process has been used for decades. Did your grandma ever add an apple or banana to a bag of green tomatoes to speed up the ripening process? A few days later, she’d pull out plump tomatoes (all thanks to a banana’s natural ripening agent—ethylene gas)!

6. Patient parenting: We have a Chiquita team member—a professional banana ripener—who checks on temperatures and the progression of the bananas.

7. Tick, tock: Over 24 hours, the ethylene releases into that room. We set temperatures anywhere between 55 and 65 degrees and crank the humidity to about 90 percent. Over time, bananas start to progress from the different stages. To get to stage 3 or stage 3.5, it takes about 5 days. To get to stage 4, it takes about 7 days.

8. Go to sleep, little baby: We wrap the fruit in a banana blanket to ensure temperatures aren’t too hot or cold when fruit is shipped to stores.

9. Bon appétit: Guests buy bananas between stage 3 and stage 4 at the store. Over a few days, you’ll have perfectly ripened bananas in your home!

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