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Safe Handling Practices for Melons

In recent years, there have been several foodborne outbreaks associated with melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc). The most recent outbreak, occurring in April and May 2001, involved a total of 46 illnesses in 14 states; there were 2 deaths associated with the outbreak.  Many of the illnesses have been associated with cantaloupe consumption.

Recommendations for Foodservice Operations

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before cutting melons.
  • Before cutting, wash the outer surface of the melon thoroughly with cool tap water to remove surface dirt; scrub with a clean produce brush.
  • Wash all food-contact equipment and utensils that contact cut melons (cutting boards, knives, etc.) thoroughly with hot soapy water, rinse, sanitize, and air-dry.
  • Use a barrier such as gloves, deli paper, or an appropriate utensil to touch cut melons. Do not touch cut melons with bare hands.
  • Maintain the temperature of cut melons at 41º F or below. Cut melons should be displayed in a refrigerated case, not just displayed on top of ice. Uncut melons do not need to be refrigerated.
  • Date mark cut melons that are held more than 24 hours to indicate that they must be consumed or discarded within 7 days.
  • Mark the time when cut melons are displayed without refrigeration. Cut melons may be displayed for a maximum of 4 hours without temperature control, and, if not eaten, must be thrown away at the end of 4 hours.
  • Specific procedures for storing or displaying melons, for washing hands, date marking, and for washing and sanitizing equipment can be found in the FDA Food Code.

Recommendation for Consumers

  • At the store, purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. If buying fresh cut produce, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • At home, chill and refrigerate foods. After purchase, put produce that needs refrigeration away promptly. (Fresh whole produce such as bananas and potatoes do not need refrigeration.) Fresh produce should be refrigerated within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Wash hands often. Hands should be washed with hot soapy water before and after handling fresh produce, or raw meat, poultry, or seafood, as well as after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
  • Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables with cool tap water immediately before eating. Don't use soap or detergents. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Cut away any bruised or damaged areas before eating.
  • Wash surfaces often. Cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops should be washed with hot soapy water and sanitized after coming in contact with fresh produce, or raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Sanitize after use with a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.
  • Don't cross contaminate. Use clean cutting boards and utensils when handling fresh produce. If possible, use one clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. During food preparation, wash cutting boards, utensils or dishes that have come into contact with fresh produce, raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Do not consume ice that has come in contact with fresh produce or other raw products.
  • Use a cooler with ice or use ice gel packs when transporting or storing perishable food outdoors, including cut fresh fruits and vegetables.

Following these steps will help reduce the risk of foodborne illness from fresh produce.

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