University of California

Ask the Produce Docs (General)

Will air compressor problems in my reefer container affect the ripening of bananas?

Category
  • Ethylene
  • Transportation
Question

I recently encountered a quality issue with bananas held in a low oxygen controlled atmosphere during sea transit in a reefer container.  Due to an air compressor failure, hydrocarbons produced from burned lubricating oil were injected into the compartment.  I am interested in knowing if these hydrocarbons could affect the ripening of the bananas, similar to the effects of ethylene. (N.S.)

Answer

Yes, hydrocarbons such as from exhaust fumes or in this case "burned lubricating oil" can and will mimic the effects of the plant ripening hormone ethylene, which is, in and of itself, a simple hydrocarbon molecule.  In fact in developing countries acetylene is sometimes used as a substitute for the ripening gas ethylene as it is often readily available at welding supply outlets.  Ethylene is the most powerful hydrocarbon gas that promotes fruit ripening and other hydrocarbon analogs (i.e. similar type of hydrocarbons) are less efficient and must be used at higher concentrations than ethylene to get the same effect.  However, banana ripening can be accelerated by parts per million levels of ethylene in the atmosphere around them.

–Jim Gorny

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