Browning bananas create nearly 50 million tonnes of food waste

food waste, banana
© Vlad Varshavskiy

Researchers have mapped the browning patterns of bananas, finding them to be a leading contributor to household waste

Many fruits turn brown when cut, damaged, or stored for longer periods of time – a process caused by air and enzymatic reactions. This process leads to an estimated 50 million tonnes of food waste as stores and consumers throw out browning bananas due to their appearance.

The team at Florida State University have produced a method to simulate spotting and browning patterns on bananas in order to pinpoint the causes and eventually reduce food waste.

“For 2019, the total production of bananas was estimated to be 117 million tons making it a leading crop in the world,” says Oliver Steinbock, lead author of the research.

“When bananas ripen, they form numerous dark spots that are familiar to most people and are often used as a ripeness indicator. However, the process of how these spots are formed, grow, and their resulting pattern remained poorly understood, until now.”

Recording browning bananas through time lapse

Together with co-authors Qingpu Wang and Pamela Knoll, Steinbock studied how the spots form and evolve over time through time lapse videos.

Through the application of a nonlinear reaction-diffusion model – that considered oxygen concentration and browning degree of the peel – the team found that spots appeared during a two-day period, rapidly expand but then mysteriously stall.

CC BY Oliver Steinbock

The team found that the formation of the spots can be slowed by decreasing oxygen levels in their tiny formation sites. By finding the root cause of spot stalling will enable future research into how to keep fruit fresher for longer without genetic modifications or pristine atmospheric conditions.

“Fruit browning continues to be a major challenge for the food industry. Our study offers a model for banana spotting which is capable of capturing their evolution in a physically meaningful context and which can be applied to procedures to mitigate food waste,” said Steinbock.


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