Sliced melon is no stranger to foodborne illness! It’s considered a potentially hazardous food, meaning a food that has the ability for bacteria to grow and thrive. The recent multi-state outbreak of Salmonella infection has shed light on the importance of keeping cut melon safe.
You may know that Salmonella can contaminate poultry and eggs, but it also sneaks its way into many other foods. Food safety with cut melons is not something that the average person thinks about, but understanding how they are able to make you sick is something that you should not miss. So why is cut melon a risky food? It starts where we grow the melons. Most melons are grown on the ground. Farmers may be using contaminated water on their crops, or they may be using manure infected with bacteria. The produce could also be poorly handled further down the supply chain.
Salmonella infection usually results from ingestion of the bacteria from contaminated food, water, or hands. Anyone can get a Salmonella infection, but some groups are more likely to develop a serious illness: older adults, children younger than 5, and people with immune systems weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and cancer or their treatment.
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
Fruits and vegetables are often eaten raw, without cooking to destroy pathogens. Thus, they are potential sources of food-borne illness. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal, which is why it is important to know how to prevent Salmonella infection. It is the cutting of the melon that can cause the problem. If you do not properly wash the melon before you cut it, you might introduce bacteria to the inside meat of the melon.
How to Keep Raw Produce Safe
Learn what you can do to make your food safer to eat.
- Do not purchase cut produce that is not refrigerated.
- Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food.
- According to the Food and Drug Administration, you should wash raw fruits and vegetables very well before you peel, cut, eat, or cook with them. Washing reduces the bacteria that may be present on fresh produce.
- Use clean cold water to wash the produce. Do not wash it with soaps or detergents. Produce washes are not necessary.
- For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove pathogens.
- Produce with many nooks and crannies like cauliflower, broccoli, or lettuce should be soaked for 1 to 2 minutes in cold clean water to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
- Some produce such as raspberries should not be soaked in water. Put fragile produce in a colander and spray it with clean cold water.
- After washing, dry produce with a clean paper towel. This can remove more bacteria.
- Do not rewash packaged products labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.”
- Clean your counter top, cutting boards, and utensils after peeling produce and before cutting and chopping. Bacteria from the outside of raw produce can be transferred to the inside when it is cut or peeled.
- Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. Sanitizing solution can be prepared by mixing 1 teaspoon unscented chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of warm water.
- Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40ºF or below.
Let the melon slices sit in the kitchen waiting to be served, and this gives bacteria enough time in the Temperature Danger Zone (41˚F to 135˚F) for the bacteria to start to reproduce. Be sure to refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours. Chill them within 1 hour if the temperature is 90°F or hotter.
Fresh produce is nutritious; however, if they are handled incorrectly, they can make you very sick! Help prevent foodborne illness from striking you and your family. You should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended you wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Furthermore, do not forget to wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Follow these recommendations and enjoy the goodness of fresh produce!