Melons: Prepare and store properly for safe consumption

Cut melons can be a potentially hazardous food, supporting the rapid growth of bacteria. Use these instructions to properly handle and serve melon.

Woman eating a bowl of assorted melon.Melons are a delicious and nutritious summer fruit. We know fruit is an important part of a balanced diet; national guidelines recommend we make half our plate fruits and vegetables each day. However, fresh fruit, like many other foods, can be hazardous if not prepared or stored properly. Following some simple guidelines will help keep your fruit fresh and safe.

It begins where the melons grow. Most melons are grown on the ground. The ground is dirty, but the rind protects the inside of the melon. The problem is that germs like E-coli, Listeria or Salmonellacan sometimes hang out on the rind. The bacteria may be there, or it may not be – we don’t know, but because scientists learn from previous mistakes, we do know that some melons have E-coli hovering around the outside of the melon. In most cases, the E-coli germs don’t do too much to the rind of the melon. It’s the cutting of the melon that can cause the problem. If you don’t properly wash the melon before you cut it, you might introduce E-coli to the inside of the melon. The bacteria will attach onto the knife blade from the surface of the dirty melon and travel through the melon, once the cuts are made, it contaminates every slice. Once there, the germs find enough nutrients to grow on, all they need is the proper temperature and time to grow.

Letting the melon slices sit on the table at your backyard BBQ, or in the kitchen waiting to be served gives them enough time in the Temperature Danger Zone (41 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit; 5 degrees Celsius to 57.2 degrees Celsius) and the germs start to reproduce. Since it is very rare that anyone cooks melon, the bacteria will be consumed when the melon is eaten.

So how should I keep cut melons safe to eat?
Always wash melons and your other produce completely. This will help you remove any germs from the outside before you start cutting. Make sure that the knives and cutting boards you use are also clean. Always wash your hands before doing the cutting! Then place the cut melon in the refrigerator or an ice chest to keep it cold; this will prevent any germs that escaped the cleaning from growing too quickly.

When should I throw it out?
Keep cut melons cold. If melon pieces sit out at room temperature for longer than two hours, throw them out. If you have to wonder how long they’ve been out there, they’ve been out too long. Cantaloupes, watermelons and other melons are great, nutritious foods – but if they're handled incorrectly, they can make you very sick!

Most produce is purchased as “raw” products. This means you should take them home and wash them, cook them or do something else with them before you eat them! Follow these recommendations and enjoy the goodness of melons!

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