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Safely Preparing a Cantaloupe

15.apr.08, International Food Safety Network, International Food Safety Network

15.apr.08, International Food Safety Network, International Food Safety Network
On March 22, 2008 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised consumers not to eat cantaloupes from a Honduran grower because they may have been contaminated with Salmonella. The outbreak has so far caused over 50 illnesses in 16 states, and at least nine illnesses in Canada. Warnings and recalls related to cantaloupes are common, as they are always in the top 5 list of fruits and vegetables for outbreaks. This is largely due to their growing conditions and their porosity. There is little the consumer can do to prevent contamination of the fruit; it needs to be done on the farm.

How can consumers enjoy cantaloupe without the burden of becoming sick? The most important thing to do is to minimize the chances of contaminating the interior of the fruit. This is done by preventing the rind from contaminating the inside of the cantaloupe, either by direct contact or by cross contamination. There are different methods used for preparing a cantaloupe, but there is disagreement over which is the most effective technique.

One method uses two knives, two cutting boards and a spoon. Cut the cantaloupe into large pieces with the first knife and cutting board, and then spoon out the seeds. Next, wash your hands with soap and water, rubbing vigorously. Use the second knife to cut the fruit away from the rind, and place the fruit on the second cutting board. Now you can cut the fruit into smaller pieces without worrying about the rind. This method prevents the outer layer of the cantaloupe from contacting the inner. It is known that bacteria can grow and thrive on the fruit of the cantaloupe, so it is important to always keep it refrigerated.

It is recommended that the cantaloupe be washed before preparation. A study from the University of California showed that washing the rind in water helped remove some bacteria from the surface. Scrubbing with a sterile vegetable brush also helped remove more bacteria than just soaking. After the washing and scrubbing, some bacteria still remained on the rind, so the importance of preventing the fruit from touching the rind remains.

Research done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that when cutting through the rind and into the fruit, bacteria could be transferred through the interior of the cantaloupe. How much bacteria is transferred is dependant on the amount of bacteria on the rind upon preparation. So reducing the bacterial load through washing will ultimately reduce the amount of bacteria transferred
through cutting. There is a chance that some cells will end up on the fruit, so it is important refrigerate the fruit after preparation.

In order to safely enjoy a cantaloupe, the most important consideration is to prevent the rind from contacting the inner surface, either directly or indirectly. Don’t cross contaminate with utensils, your hands, or other foods, and wash the cantaloupe before
cutting. As a precautionary step try to leave a small buffer zone when cutting the fruit from the rind. Don’t cut away the green
portion, don’t let it sit out, don’t cross contaminate, and enjoy your delicious cantaloupe; especially good with ice cream.


“Reducing Salmonella on cantaloupes and honeydew melons using wash
practices applicable to postharvest handling, foodservice, and
consumer preparation”. Tracy L. Parnell, Linda J. Harris, Trevor V.
Suslow. University of California. International Journal of Food
Microbiology 99 (2005) 59-70.

“Effect of Sanitizer Treatments on Salmonella Stanley Attached to the
Surface of Cantaloupe and Cell Transfer to Fresh-Cut Tissues during
Cutting Practices”. Dike O. Ukuku and Gerald M. Sapers. U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 64, No.
9, 2001.

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