The banana supply chain

Practices in each step of the fresh chain have a great influence on the postharvest quality and shelf-life of fruit and vegetables. This also holds for (dessert) banana. Harvest and cold chain must be well managed to reach the expected banana quality by the consumer. By using appropriate harvest processes and chain conditions, quality can be maintained longer and shelf life can be extended. Failure to follow these processes may result in a high degree of loss or deterioration of the product to a lower quality class. Every step in the chain is important for success later in the chain.

Banana plantation. Photo by Salvador Aznar/

Aim for high quality at each step of the chain

Dessert banana is traded internationally, making use of refrigerated sea transport, and is in fact the most traded fruit in the world. Cavendish cultivars are the most common bananas. Banana is a typical climacteric fruit, its ripening continues after harvesting and is closely associated with a sharp increase in respiration and ethylene production. The subsequent development stages are visible as the ‘green life’ stage, the ripening stage, and the eat-ripe yellow stage. For long-distance markets, bananas must be harvested in the pre-climacteric (green) stage and be kept as such during transport. Controlled ripening then takes place to deliver bananas at the desired stage of ripeness to retailers and ultimately to the consumer.

Steps in the banana chain

  1. Organic banana field. Photo by Alchemist from India/


    The postharvest chain starts with the harvest in the banana plantations. The dessert banana is of great economic importance to many countries around the equator. Among the main exporting countries are Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Philippines. The bananas are harvested when they are mature but still green. Shortly after harvesting, the transport to the packhouse must follow.
  2. Recommended temperature indication for banana on a box. Photo by WUR

    Temperature management

    It is essential that bananas, especially for overseas shipment, are cooled as soon as possible. Lowering the fruit temperature delays ripening and decay. However, bananas are susceptible to chilling injury that would lead to unattractive discolorations. Therefore, they should not be stored or transported too cold. The controlled ripening in ripening rooms must also be well temperature-controlled.
  3. Packed bananas ready for transport. Photo by WUR.


    Ideally, the packhouse is only a short distance from the plantations. This minimizes the risk of damage during transport and facilitates early cooling in the packhouse. Soon after arrival at the packhouse, processes such as washing, grading and packing start. Failure to sort and discard too immature, overripe, misshapen, bruised, or otherwise damaged produce would cause problems in subsequent marketing.
  4. Bananas for international markets are often transported overseas. Photo by Claudine Van Massenhove/


    For bananas transported over long distances, transport is a crucial part of the supply chain. When bananas are harvested at the harvest stage for export and handled as recommended, a transport time of several weeks is very well possible. A proper load in refrigerated trucks or reefers is important to maintain good temperature conditions. Good temperature control and the right packaging can be combined with Controlled Atmosphere (CA) to extend storage life to bridge longer distances to market.
  5. Ripening facility for bananas

    Controlled ripening

    Upon arrival in the country of destination, bananas
    can be stored for an additional period, depending on market demands. In most cases, the bananas are artificially ripened shortly after arrival in ripening rooms, also known as banana chambers. In these rooms ethylene is released at a controlled temperature and humidity. Experts adjust the exact details of the ripening program to the maturity of the batch and the planned delivery to the retail.
  6. Colour stages of banana. Photo by WUR.


    Bananas usually arrive at retail in colour stage 3 (more green than yellow, or half green half yellow) and stage 4 (more yellow than green). Bananas are displayed at ambient temperature. On the shelf, the banana should show its desired bright yellow appearance. The fruit condition must be sufficient to ultimately arrive in the consumer’s home in satisfactory condition with good flavour and aroma.