County Extension Director
Melons are one of nature’s greatest gifts. But, did you know that this precious food commodity can pose a risk if not handled and stored properly? Melons are exposed to microorganisms from the soil as well as pests because they are grown on the ground. That’s why it is very important to wash them thoroughly before they are cut. This applies whether you purchase them from a supermarket, local farm, or grow them in your garden.
Scrub melons with a produce brush to remove surface dirt before cutting them. Photo Credits: Marjorie Moore, Bay County
Many people have become ill from eating unwashed or poorly washed melons. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that over 1 million cases of Salmonella occur annually in the United States. Of these cases, approximately 20,000 result in hospitalization and 378 result in death.
Although anyone can develop a foodborne illness, certain groups of people such as the elderly, infants and preschool-age children, pregnant women, and those whose immune systems are compromised (people with cancer or on chemotherapy, people with HIV/AIDS, and transplant recipients) are at greater risk.
Following some simple guidelines will help keep your melons safe. Before cutting, wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling the melons. Wash the outer surface of the melon thoroughly with cool running tap water to remove surface dirt. You may want to scrub the melon with a produce brush to get rid of any trapped dirt.
Wash all equipment and utensils that will come in contact with cut melons with hot soapy water. Rinse, sanitize, and air dry. It’s okay for you to use your clean bare hands to touch the melons at home. You can further protect yourself and your family if you use plastic gloves. Gloves do not replace hand washing. You will still need to wash your hands.
When you buy cut melons, be sure they have been buried in ice or displayed in a refrigerated case, not just displayed on top of ice. Cut melons must be refrigerated at 41º F or below. Uncut melons do not need to be refrigerated. Store cut melons in a clean container and label container with the date. Eat within the next week and discard after seven days.
Cut melons may be served without refrigeration for a maximum of 4 hours (such as at a brunch, picnic, or buffet). At the end of that time, any leftover melon must be thrown away.