Because cantaloupes are grown in close contact with the ground, they can occasionally become contaminated with bacteria from the soil, water, or animals, according to a University of California publication about safe handling of cantaloupes. In addition, they can be contaminated by human contact during or after harvest.
Suslow, one of the authors of the publication, said that consumers should spend some time looking at the cantaloupes in the stores or other places where they’re sold and select those free of blemishes, cuts, sunken areas, or mold growth. (However, cantaloupes usually have an area that’s a lighter color than the rest of the melon because that’s where the melon has been resting on the ground while it’s been growing.)
“Choose the sound, intact ones,” Suslow said.
Once you’ve brought the melon home, don’t wash it until you’re ready to eat it, he said. If it’s not quite ripe, it’s fine to keep it on the kitchen counter for a day or two, but, again, don’t wash it then or before you put it into the refrigerator. The reason for that, he said, is that cantaloupes are a “desert fruit” and need to be dry. Wetting them and putting them into the refrigerator can trigger mold.
It’s also important to remember to wash your hands before and after handling cantaloupe and to always use clean equipment, utensils, and cutting surfaces. Also, if you’ve kept the cantaloupe on the counter before putting it in the refrigerator, clean the counter once you transfer the melon to the refrigerator.
When you put the melon into the refrigerator, don’t let it come into contact with other foods. That will ensure that foods such as meat and poultry won’t contaminate it — or if there’s bacteria on the surface of the melon, that the bacteria won’t contaminate any of the food in your refrigerator.
The best temperature to store a ripe cantaloupe is 36 to 41 degrees F (2.2 to 5 degrees C). To prevent the melon from drying out, the best humidity level is 95 to 100 percent. For that reason, the best place to put a cantaloupe is in the refrigerator’s crisper.
When purchased from a grocery store, a cantaloupe will keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days, depending on how ripe it was when it was put there. Cantaloupes fresh from the field or garden will last from 5 to 15 days, depending on the variety and growing conditions. The riper the melon, the shorter the keeping time.
Once you’re ready to eat the melon, wash it under running water with a clean vegetable brush. That’s important, said Suslow, because the spaces within the netted rind on the melon protect the bacteria and make it harder to remove any that might be there.
After washing the melon, blot it with paper towels to remove excess water. Then put the melon on a clean surface — one that hasn’t come into contact with meat or poultry or other foods that could cause cross-contamination — and cut off the stem end about 3/4 to 1 inch from the end, using a clean kitchen knife to do this. (It’s recommended that you don’t do this in the kitchen sink.)
Place the melon on a clean cutting board, plate or other clean surface with the cut end facing down.
Using a clean knife, cut the melon from the blossom end to the stem end. Follow this by washing the knife with clean running water and setting it aside.
Gently scrape out the seeds with a clean spoon and cut the melon into slices or whatever is desired.
Don’t use dish soap or detergent, neither of which is recommended or approved for washing fruits and vegetables. Because cantaloupes are so porous, they can absorb detergent residues.
Suslow said that even if you wash the rind, you should avoid arranging the slices in a way that allows the rind to touch the melon’s edible flesh, especially if you’re serving people susceptible to food poisoning such as young children, older people, pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems.
Melon that isn’t eaten should be peeled, covered and refrigerated. But toss any that’s been kept out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour when the temperatures are over 90 degrees F.
All of these food-safety practices should also be followed when using melons grown in a garden.
Sources for information about microbial food safety pertaining to home gardening and edible landscapes can be found here.
“It all fits together,” said Suslow. “You do as much as possible to stop contamination from being introduced.”
Drying and canning cantaloupe is not recommended. In fact, because cantaloupes have low acid levels, canning them can support the growth of the bacterium that causes botulism, a potentially fatal type of food poisoning.
In some cases, already-cut cantaloupe from the store or served in a restaurant, for example, has been linked to foodborne illnesses such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. And on Sept. 23, a Kansas food processor recalled fresh cut cantaloupe chunks and fruit medley containing cantaloupe because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria that have caused the multistate outbreak.
According to the UC Davis publication, storing cut melons at room temperature or other warm conditions such as in a hot car or at a picnic can lead to rapid growth of harmful bacteria on the melon’s flesh.
If you buy cut or diced cantaloupe, make sure it’s properly chilled, preferably in the refrigerated display case. And if cut or diced melons are displayed on ice, they should be surrounded by ice. In addition, the surface container or wrap should be cold to the touch, according to the same UC Davis publication.
The optimal storage temperature for ripe cantaloupe is 36 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
~Food Safety News