This summer has not been kind to the nation’s cantaloupe farmers. It seems that every week, there’s a news report about salmonella or listeria contamination in cantaloupes, and recall alerts are sounded for consumers on an ongoing basis.
For those of us who love summer melons, especially cantaloupe, it’s a tough call. Do we risk taking them home to our families, or pass them by in favor of other summer fruits?
What is it about cantaloupes, in particular, that seems to attract these nasty pathogens? Several factors, it seems. The unique rough texture of cantaloupe skin creates an attractive place for bacteria to become trapped and multiply. And then there’s the fact that the melons lay on the ground over time as they grow, with more opportunity for contact with contaminated soil.
The most fastidious consumer can’t prevent 100 percent of illness from contaminated produce. However, a survey of recent articles from health experts offers some advice on reducing the odds:
- Don’t buy melons that are bruised or damaged. Buy fresh produce that is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Within two hours of peeling or cutting produce, store it in the refrigerator. If cut or peeled fruit has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, toss it.
- Wash all melons with cool tap water immediately before eating. Don't use soap or detergents. Scrub melons with a clean produce brush. Cut away any bruised or damaged areas before eating.
- Wash your hands often with hot soapy water before and after handling fresh melons. Wash all surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water after coming in contact with fresh produce. Treat them as you would when handling raw meat – and avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for produce and raw meat/poultry/seafood.
- Consumers should do their best to investigate where their cantaloupes are coming from and stay abreast of current recalls. In the event that a cantaloupe label is missing, the CDC has a simple piece of advice: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
What food safety rules do you follow in your kitchen?