Colorado State University experts are offering tips to consumers who are concerned about the recent Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe. This information is provided by Extension food safety experts in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
Melons are grown in close contact with the ground and may occasionally come into contact with bacteria from the soil, water or animals. Contamination from human contact may also arise during or after harvest.
Listeria can survive and grow at refrigerator temperatures, so if a consumer has stored Rocky Ford melons in the refrigerator, it would be a good time to clean surfaces with soap and water and wash reusable shopping bags.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has advised high-risk consumers to avoid Rocky Ford melons. This includes people age 60 and older; those with weakened immune systems from transplants or certain chronic diseases, immunosuppressive therapies or medications; and pregnant women.
Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever and muscle aches as well as diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions. Listeriosis also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
To protect yourself from contamination when preparing melons:
– Always wash hands and utensils (knives and cutting boards) before and after handling melons.
– Wash the outside of the melon with a clean vegetable brush under cool running water. Blot the melon dry with clean paper towels.
– Place the washed melon on a clean cutting board. Cut about one inch off the stem end with a clean knife. Position the melon on the cutting board with the cut end facing down. With a clean knife, slice melon vertically in half. Wash the knife. Scrape the seeds out with a clean spoon. Continue to cut the melon into slices or as desired.
– Refrigerate cut melon at 41degrees or colder.
– Discard any cut melon that has been kept at room temperature for more than four hours.
When selecting and storing melons:
– Ripe cantaloupe are golden, not green, underneath the webbed surface.
– The stem area of a ripe cantaloupe should be slightly indented, and the opposite end should be slightly soft.
– Cantaloupe will ripen (soften and become more juicy) after harvest but will not become sweeter.
– For optimal storage, place fresh whole cantaloupe in the refrigerator crisper where humidity tends to be higher. The storage life of melons is dependent on variety, growing conditions and the initial degree of ripeness when the melon was purchased.
For additional information about growing, preserving and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, free CSU Extension fact sheets are available at www.ext.colostate.edu:
– Guide to washing fresh produce
– Shopping at Colorado farmers’ markets
– Food storage for safety and quality
– Canning fruits and vegetables
The Colorado State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences.