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From farm to store: How we grow and harvest our bananas

At Asda, we sell 14 million bananas a week. Here’s how we get them from South and Central America to your local store in peak condition.

July 5, 2017 04:38pm
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Banana plants are harvested all year round and shipped to the UK weekly. The perfect growing conditions for bananas are temperatures of 30°C during the day, followed by overnight temperatures of 22°C and light rainfall.

Harvesting bananas

We work closely with local farmers and growers in places like Colombia and Costa Rica, which have the optimum growing requirements, through our global supplier network IPL (International Procurement and Logistics).

Did you know banana plants are actually the world’s largest herb? They’re part of the same family as orchids and lilies. The bananas are ready to be harvested between 10 and 13 weeks after the plant flowers. Each banana flower is tagged with a coloured ribbon to ensure bananas of the same ripeness are harvested together.

Removing bananas to promote growth

During the growth period some of the bananas are removed to encourage growth. Less fruit on a stem will yield bigger bananas.

The bananas are protected by wet sponges

Bananas are harvested by hand. When the fruit is ripe the stems are cut down and wet sponges are placed in between the bananas to protect them from bumps and bruising.

The banana stems are carried by hand

The bananas are then covered in blue bags to keep insects at bay and carried by cable across the fields to be washed and packed. Bananas are incredibly delicate so we make sure they’re handled as little as possible.

As the bananas enter the pack house they’re sprayed with water to remove any debris.

The bananas arrive at the packhouse

The washed bananas are then inspected to avoid packing fruit that is too ripe. If an overripe banana is found the whole bunch is rejected. However, these bananas are sold to the local market or given to cattle … so there’s never any waste.

Checking maturity of bananas

The knife used to cut the bananas is called a “curvo” which means curve in Spanish.

Checking the quality of the bananas

If the bananas are pulled too fast along the cables it can damage the fruit. The bananas are checked for quality and graded from one to 25 depending on any damage found.

Cutting the bananas into smaller bunches

The clusters of bananas are then cut into smaller bunches. After they’ve been cut the bananas secrete a very sticky sap known as latex.

The sticky sap is removed in pools of water

The cut bananas are placed in pools of water to remove the latex. The sap is harmless but will leave an unsightly black trail on the skin of the banana once it dries if it isn’t removed. The fruit is then labelled by hand before being packed.

Labelling the bananas

The bananas are inspected again and packed into bags or loose into boxes. Packing the fruit into boxes is trickier than it looks! It takes skill to pack them carefully without damaging the fruit.

Packing plant manager

Once the fruit is packed the plant manager does a final quality check. He scores the final produce based on size of fruit, the way the bananas are packed and selection of fruit. From this he can detect any problems with the production process.

The bananas are shipped weekly to the UK

The crates of bananas are then stacked on to pallets, loaded on to containers and shipped to the UK. It can take between 10 and 25 days for the bananas to reach the UK, depending on the country of origin.

In the ripening chambers

In the UK the fruit is again inspected at the ripening centres, the pallets are placed into “ripening chambers” where they are introduced to ethylene at 14.5°C to trigger the ripening process.

Over the next four to eight days fruit will be ripened to the ideal colour and then packed, labelled and sent to Asda.

On rare occasions you might hear of people finding a spider has managed to hitch a ride from Central or South America in a bunch of bananas. It makes headlines, particularly if the papers report that the spider is “deadly”.

A spider making it all the way to the UK is highly unlikely but, on the rare occasion that one does give us a fright, they are likely to be harmless – and in many cases have got in amongst the bananas after the fruit landed in the UK.

In the past year we’ve sold 728 million bananas and received 24 complaints about potential spiders, or spider egg sacs, found in bananas bought at Asda. None of these cases included “deadly spiders” as reported in the media.

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