Photo Jay Caboz.
Checkers' bananas. Photo Jay Caboz.
  • Business Insider South Africa tested the longevity of bananas from four major retailers: Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar, and Woolworths.
  • All the bananas were fine by their sell-by dates – but started to rapidly turn thereafter.
  • One retailer was a clear winner, being both cheap and somehow finding bananas able to defy the ageing process.
  • For more stories, visit Business Insider South Africa.  

We all can relate to the pain when carefully-selected fruit has to be thrown away because it goes off many days earlier than expected, a common complaint for many South Africans.

So Business Insider South Africa decided to compare fruits from different retailers to see which last longest, at the best price.

We settled on bananas, as a product that is not refrigerated and is often left just a little too long to still be eaten.

Like other fresh produce, retailers usually provide date guidance on how long bananas will be good, even though they do not come with formal expiration, best-before, or use-by dates.

Liz Van Niekerk, Pick n Pay’s head of produce and horticulture, told Business Insider that while expiry dates are regulated in South Africa for packaged and prepared foods, loose produce that haven't been peeled or cut – such as bananas – are exempt from including an expiry date. Instead retailers conduct regular shelf life tests on fresh produce.  

We found that ‘sell-by dates’ can vary greatly between stores, and they're worth keeping an eye out for. 

Photo Jay Caboz.
Photo Jay Caboz.

Business Insider South Africa visited retailers Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar, and Woolworths on four separate occasions to find the same sell-by dates of Class 1 bananas at each.

On three of the four occasions, there was as much as a three-day difference between the stores.

Eventually, on our fourth attempt, we found three stores with the same sell-by dates (1 February), and one store with bananas dated one day earlier (31 January). We judged this close enough to do a comparison. 

We purchased the bananas on the same day, 29 January, three days before the sell-by dates indicated.

Photo Jay Caboz.
Our banana studio. Photo Jay Caboz.

They then made a short journey back to our studio, where they remained for the duration of the test, exposed to the same conditions.

They were photographed twice a day, roughly 12 hours apart.  

Our tests found that all the bananas were fine to eat on their sell-by dates.  

Retailers confirmed that the "sell-by date" does not mean that a product has "expired" and is unfit for human consumption. Provided the food is stored correctly, it can last a lot longer - but how much longer is dependent on the environment it's in. 

So in the interest of seeing how long we could push them, we kept our bananas under observation for much longer.

In total we watched them for six days as they turned from slightly green to bruised and black.

Pick n Pay’s bananas deteriorated the most, but tied as being the cheapest at R17,99.

Purchased: 29 January 2020

Sell-by date: 01 Feb 2020

Photo Jay Caboz.
Pick n Pay's bananas. Photo Jay Caboz.

Pick n Pay said their sell-by dates include a traceability code on the crate – so if your food goes vrot before its time, they can trace it back to the source.

Although the banana we tried was quite edible on its sell-by date, its condition declined quickly after. Three days later, and despite looking fairly good on the outside, the bananas were completely inedible.

However, the cost of the bananas was tied as cheapest out of the four bunches we tried.

So from our experience there would be nothing wrong with buying Pick n Pay bananas, so long as you plan to eat them quickly and keep a close eye on them after the sell-by date.

Spar’s bananas also deteriorated to a level that was beyond eating – and cost R5 more at R22,99.

Purchased: 29 January 2020

Sell-by date: 01 Feb 2020

Photo Jay Caboz.
Spar's bananas. Photo Jay Caboz.

Although edible on the sell-by date, Spar’s bananas deteriorated to a level that was beyond eating in much the same ways as those from Pick n Pay – for R5 more. 

Purchase their bananas with the intention of eating them as close to the sell-by date as possible.

Despite a handicap, Woolworths' bananas were salvageable, but still the most expensive at R24,99.

Purchased: 29 January 2020

Sell-by date: 31 Jan 2020 (one day before all the others)

Photo Jay Caboz.
Woolworths' bananas. Photo Jay Caboz.

At R24.99, Woolworth’s bananas were the most expensive of the bunches in our test, R7 more than the cheapest. At this cost BI expected them to give a strong showing.

By the sell-by date they were looking good. As time went on, though, the banana skins quickly blackened and were looking pretty manky - we’d basically written them off.

So we were very surprised to find they had deteriorated significantly less than Spar and Pick n Pays' bananas on the inside. This was despite having an expiry date of 31 January, one day earlier than the others in the test group. 

We estimate you’d probably have gotten away with salvaging 25% of the bananas and adding it into a smoothie.

Woolworths said their bananas are picked daily, green, and then ripened as required. The chain said it removes fruit on the sell-by date.

“If the cold chain is somehow broken (with temperatures exceeding the specified range), it drastically shortens the product life impacting product quality, and temperature sensitive products may potentially become harmful,” it said.

The winner was Checkers, whose cheaper bananas were still going strong at R17,99.

Purchased: 29 January 2020

Sell-by date: 01 Feb 2020

Photo Jay Caboz.
Checkers' bananas. Photo Jay Caboz.

The stand-out winner was Checkers, whose bananas were the cheapest, as well as were the longest-lasting. 

On the sell-by date the Checkers bananas were looking strong and healthy. Three days later they were in a much better condition than the other bananas in our test. We estimated that 50% to 75% of the bananas were still in an edible condition, although they were showing signs of turning to mush. 

The Shoprite Group said they have put extensive research into developing their distribution facilities, including bringing in specialist refrigeration technology to ripen their bananas and cool leafy vegetables without wilting them.

"Bananas in particular are packed at a specific colour stage to ensure that it lasts past the indicated sell-by date and allow customers to use it for a few days thereafter, depending on the conditions and temperature that the customer stores the product at." 

The retailer says banana ripening and storage at their distribution centre takes place at about 14°C.  Stock is then transported to stores within a few hours at ambient temperatures of about 18°C.

Temperature-sensitive products, such as berries, prepared vegetables, salad lines, herbs and mushrooms, are specifically marked with labels which earmark the products to be off-loaded and directly unpacked to shelf or placed in a backup fridge immediately upon receiving the stock at the store. 

Conclusion: the bananas are good, if you don't push things too far. 

Photo Jay Caboz.
We pushed the bananas to their limit. Photo Jay Caboz.

Keeping an eye out on the store’s sell-by date is worthwhile. From our experience, if there is a three-day gap between the date of purchase and the sell by-date on your bananas, you've got a decent amount of time to eat them.

But in our experience, your luck will run out fast three days after the sell-by date.

Budget how many bananas you’ll eat according to how many days are left and you'll save yourself the pain of stinking up the house.

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: