Banana logistics

Mastering banana logistics: a guide to claim-free transportation

Bananas are a global favorite, but the journey from tropical farms to your local store is a logistical challenge. This challenge starts at the production, but then continues in transportation. This article explains the complexities of banana transport from the carriers’ perspective, emphasizing the factors that can help shield carriers from liability for product damage. Follow our guide for claim-free banana transportation.

Bananas are big business

The global banana industry commands an impressive annual value of around 36 billion dollars. Not only are bananas the most consumed fruit globally, but they also hold the distinction of being the most extensively transported fruit worldwide. The Cavendish variety dominates exports, grown primarily in tropical regions like Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador. 

Bananas, known for their inherent sensitivity, require careful handling throughout their cultivation. Weather conditions play a crucial role in banana farming, and factors such as droughts, heat waves, and diseases can significantly impact the quality and yield of banana crops.

The key is harvesting the bananas green to control the ripening process during transport. Why? Once bananas enter the climacteric phase before transport, the ripening process cannot be reversed.

Quality bananas are harvested green

The climacteric phase in banana ripening refers to a specific stage in the fruit’s life cycle where it undergoes rapid changes in texture, flavor, and aroma. During this phase, bananas release a natural plant hormone called ethylene. Ethylene triggers various physiological changes in the fruit, including the conversion of starches to sugars, softening of the fruit, and the development of their characteristic sweet taste and aroma.

There is no way to stop or reverse the natural ripening progression. This is why it is crucial to harvest bananas while they are still green and unripe for export, as they can continue to ripen during transit and on the shelves of stores, allowing consumers to enjoy them when they reach the desired level of ripeness.

Shipper’s responsibilities

Following the harvest, bananas undergo several crucial processes before they are ready for transport. These pre-shipment preparations are the responsibility of the shipper or exporter and should not cause claims to the carrier. Nevertheless, it helps the entire banana supply chain to:

  • Wash bananas properly to clean the dirt, dust, residues and natural contaminants;
  • Protect the peel of the bananas with chemical processing;
  • Package the bananas with banavac polyethylene bags to extend shelf life;
  • Store bananas in either ambient or cooled environments, depending on the desired ripening schedule and market demands;
  • Minimize inland transport to prevent exposure to elevated temperatures during transit.

In addition, the shipper needs to provide clear instructions for transportation specifications. These voyage instructions include requirements for temperature settings, cargo pre-cooling, ventilation, air composition and the relative air humidity.

Preventing claims: a carrier’s roadmap

Now it is time to highlight the carrier’s responsibilities. These factors are very important in shielding the carriers from liability for product damage. Here follows a roadmap for carriers to minimize the risk of claims.

  1. Ensure that the vessel is in top-notch condition 

The carrier is responsible for a seaworthy vessel that navigates the sea safely, but also for safely carrying and protecting the cargo (cargo worthiness). This also includes preventing cross-contamination.

To meet these conditions, carriers should follow this checklist carefully:

  • Check the vessel or containers for refrigeration standards and the working conditions of the cooling chambers;
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize cargo holds before loading the banana shipments;
  • Remove any residues or contaminants that could affect the quality of the bananas;
  • Free the containers from odors from previous cargoes;
  • Properly secure the banana cargo to prevent shifting during transit;
  • Use appropriate stowage techniques and cargo securing equipment to avoid damage.

Do not underestimate this importance, because bananas are very sensitive products to ship and claims arising from not meeting the cargoworthiness standards are the carrier’s financial burden.

  1. Prioritize proper temperature management

Proper temperature management is crucial for banana transportation due to the fruit’s high sensitivity to temperature fluctuations:

  • Uneven temperatures within the storage or transportation environment lead to uneven ripening. Bananas closest to heat sources might ripen faster than those in colder areas, leading to an inconsistent product.
  • Elevated temperatures can stimulate the production of ethylene gas within the bananas. This speeds up the ripening process, causing bananas to mature too quickly. 
  • Lowered temperatures, usually below 12.5°C, can result in chilling injury. Chilling injury can cause the fruit skin to turn brown and the flesh to become watery and flavorless.

The carrier is responsible for proper temperature management to prevent the bananas from premature ripening, inconsistent ripening and chilling injuries. This includes pre-cooling, temperature zoning and monitoring temperature and air circulation.

Pre-cool the bananas to the appropriate temperature before transportation. The temperature of the fruit should be lowered to the desired storage temperature, usually between 13-15°C. This step ensures that bananas start their journey at the right temperature, reducing the risk of premature ripening.

Divide the storage or transportation space into zones and place bananas with similar ripening stages together. This practice helps manage temperature more effectively for different batches of bananas, ensuring uniform ripening.

Utilize temperature monitoring devices such as data loggers or sensors to continuously monitor the temperature and air circulation inside the storage units. This prevents elevated, lowered or uneven temperatures from occurring.

  1. Strictly follow the shipper’s instructions

The instructions from the shipper should always include requirements for temperature settings, cargo pre-cooling, ventilation, air composition and the relative air humidity. It is the carrier’s responsibility to follow these instructions precisely. 

Besides following the instructions, it is necessary to properly record and document that the instructions are being followed to establish a solid defense in case of claims. Work with detailed documentation templates, that include the precise instructions and room for comments, checklists, timestamps or even signatures. 

If proper temperature monitoring is met, these results should also be used for documentation. And ideally, digital tools and software are used to record and store all documentation electronically. This includes space for photographic materials.

Shield bananas, avoid claims.

Both shipper and carrier share the responsibility to prevent cross-contamination, premature ripening, inconsistent ripening and chilling injuries. The common goal is to transport the bananas in good and consistent quality. The carrier should take care of meeting the conditions of cargo worthiness, managing the temperatures properly and following the instructions of the shipper. 

As a carrier you also have the responsibility to record and document all measurements above. Even when you follow all instructions, quality reduction of bananas can still occur. In this case, you need to prove that the product damage did not occur at a stage where you have responsibility or control. If you can provide this evidence, the claim will not be pursued against you.