The Great Banana Conspiracy was triggered by a technological advance. Around 1880 the commercial production of residential kitchen iceboxes began, bringing the promise of preserving perishable foods. The governing board of the world banana cartel immediately recognized the threat to their bottom line. The cartel decided upon a disinformation campaign based on a kernel of truth: in a sealed container the natural plant hormones released by bananas accelerate ripening. This effect was already used commercially to ripen bananas for market.
The word went out: “Do not put bananas in the refrigerator. They will turn brown and go bad.” It was passed to the grapevine, fed into the rumor mill, gossiped over back yard fences, and inserted into the interminable Senate filibusters of the time. It was picked up by our great-grandmothers, passed to our grandmothers, who taught it to our mothers, and now we indoctrinate our own children and grandchildren. It has resulted in 130 years of soft, sticky, and blah bananas resting in cute little mesh slings or dangling from crescent-shaped hangers on kitchen counters.
In point of fact, when fresh bananas are put into the refrigerator, they do develop a superficial light brown dusting on the surface of their skins after a few days. Yet when you take one out, you find that the peel underneath is still crisp and the fruit inside is fresh, firm, and sweet. (Keep green bananas at room temperature until the bodies just turn yellow and then put them in the refrigerator.)
We were also told to not put bread in the refrigerator, effectively the same misdirection. As a practical matter, the early iceboxes were small, and what little space they had was needed for eggs, meat, and milk. Bread was baked at home and generally eaten on the same day. So the habit of no refrigeration became the rule. Modern refrigerators have eliminated the space problem and store-bought bread has replaced daily baking – however, the rule has remained while modern smaller families are taking longer to finish a loaf.
The fact is that bread keeps just fine for several days in its plastic wrap in the refrigerator. It doesn’t get moldy, it doesn’t get soggy, it doesn’t dry out, and it doesn’t become stale. It toasts the same way, makes perfectly good sandwiches, and stays generally indistinguishable from non-refrigerated bread. If you need a room temperature slice or two, a mere 8 or 10 seconds in the microwave takes care of that. And since in the refrigerator the bread does not get moldy, you won’t find yourself trying to remember how many days ago you bought it. There may be an exotic crusty French boule that’s edible only while still warm from the oven, but if your bread came from the grocery store, throw it in the fridge.