Preharvest food safety pointers for cantaloupes and melons

Cantaloupes and melons can be tricky with regards to food safety. Growers need to be particularly careful when implementing food safety strategies with melons. Here are a number of key points that can have a big impact on food safety in melons.

By their nature, cantaloupes and melons can be a bit tricky with regards to food safety. To begin with, they grow on the ground and can easily pick up dirt and manure onto their outer surface. The rough exterior of cantaloupe adds another complication, making them very difficult to clean after harvest. If that wasn’t difficult enough, melons are eaten raw, making the risk of illness from eating them higher. As such, individuals need to be particularly careful when implementing food safety strategies regarding melons.

According to Michigan State University Extension, minimizing soil contact can greatly reduce the chance of contaminating the melons. Where there is a choice, using plasticulture can both enhance weed control and food safety. By creating a barrier between the melons and soil, the likelihood of disease spread through soil contact is reduced.

Keeping culls under control is particularly important with melons. Rotting melons can attract flies and wasps that can also spread foodborne illness bacteria to fruit that will enter the food chain. Best practice dictates that culls should be removed from fields and row middles. This can reduce the number and prevalence of flying insects.

Pay particular attention to risks posed by production practices adjacent to the melon field that could contaminate the crop. Manure should never be applied directly adjacent to the crop at any point near harvest.

Make sure harvest workers are healthy and have clean hands. Because all melons are hand-harvested, ensuring the cleanliness of the hands doing the harvesting is of critical importance. In addition, keeping those harvest workers who are sick from handling the crop can ensure they don’t spread a foodborne illness to consumers.

All surfaces that contact the produce from the time it is picked until it leaves the care of the farm should be clean and sanitary. Direct food contact surfaces should be given the most care. Cardboard boxes coming into direct contact with the melons should be new and only used once. Reusable plastic containers that directly contact melons need to be washed, rinsed and sanitized prior to use in the field. Packing material such as straw should be clean and stored in a manner that minimizes contamination from wildlife.

If you would like more information on reducing the risks of foodborne illness associated with melons in your operation, contact the Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or at

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