Cantaloupes and Food Safety
It’s the middle of cantaloupe season and those stacks of melons at grocery stores and farmers markets are beckoning. They’re a popular dessert at picnics served up plain – because they just don’t need any help to be delicious.
One thing to remember in the lazy days of summer is food safety. The past few years have seen significant outbreaks with cantaloupes as the source.
The fruit develop in contact with the ground, giving ample opportunity for any microorganism to end up on the cantaloupe. Listeria, salmonella, and e.coli have all caused illnesses after colonizing the surface of cantaloupes. Last summer, two outbreaks involving cantaloupe from different sources exposed consumers to listeria and salmonella. The summer before, Jensen Farms had to file for bankruptcy after their listeria-contaminated cantaloupe proved fatal for thirty-six people. Recently, cantaloupe were recalled for listeria, although no illnesses have been reported in association with this recall.
Selecting the Cantaloupe
While food safety starts on the farm, we can reduce the chances of getting sick from a contaminated cantaloupe with a few practices in our own kitchens. When selecting a whole cantaloupe, avoid those with bruises, cuts, or cracks. One side will have a large spot that looks a little less ripe than the rest of the melon – that’s okay. It’s the spot where the cantaloupe rested on the ground. At a farmers market, the cantaloupes will have a delicious sweet smell, but those at the grocery store won’t, although they may be just as sweet inside.
Storing the Cantaloupe
The sooner you eat the cantaloupe, the sweeter it will be. To store a cantaloupe, place it in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. The ideal temperature of the drawer is 36-41 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 95-100%. The melon should be fine for a week or two under those conditions. Don’t wash the cantaloupe before storing. Washing encourages mold growth.
Washing the Cantaloupe
The rind has a tan-colored raised netting on either a yellow or green skin. The unevenness of the netting makes the cantaloupe more difficult to clean. Use soap and warm water all over the melon. A vegetable scrubber will help to get into all the uneven spaces.
Soap isn’t usually recommended for washing fruits and vegetables, since many of them are porous and can absorb the soap. For cantaloupes, I do use soap. I cut the rind off after washing, removing the part of the melon that might have absorbed the soap.
Cutting the Cantaloupe
Slice the blossom end off and stand the melon on the cut end on a clean cutting board. Cut the cantaloupe in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. At this point, I remove the rind, then cut the melon into cubes for serving.
Cantaloupe with slice photo via Shutterstock