Are Cantaloupes Safe to Eat?

Adair Hoover,
Home & Garden Information Center

There have been several recalls of cantaloupes and melons across the US this summer. While none of these melons were grown in South Carolina, some were distributed for sale here.  These recalls have had an impact on local cantaloupe farmers and may have you wondering:

Are fresh cantaloupes and melons safe to eat? The answer is YES but some precautions should be taken….

Cantaloupes and melons are grown in the ground which makes them vulnerable to bacteria from the dirt. Some naturally occurring bacteria can be harmful if not removed by thorough washing or destroyed by cooking at a temperature of 165 °F or above. Because melons are normally eaten raw there is less opportunity to destroy any harmful bacterial that may be present. The bacteria responsible for recent recalls were Listeria monotogenes and Salmonella sp.:

Listeria monocytogenes is a microorganism (commonly found in soil and water) which causes Listeriosis. Most people do not get Listeriosis. However, pregnant women and newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at risk for becoming seriously ill from eating foods that contain the Listeria microorganisms. The recall of cantaloupes and melons that were distributed in South Carolina this summer was based on the FDA’s finding of Listeria monocytogenes on a honeydew melon. There have been no reported illnesses associated with this recall.

Salmonella sp. is a type of bacteria that causes one of the most common foodborne illnesses. Salmonella is transmitted through contact with contaminated food, water, or contact with infected animals. In the field, a cantaloupe could become contaminated if it came in contact with animal feces or soil. During or after harvest, a cantaloupe could be contaminated through contact with contaminated people, equipment, or water.

It is important to remember that food product recalls are safety precautions regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that our food supply is safe. There were no illnesses reported in association with two of the three recent cantaloupe recalls.

Cantaloupes and melons are safe to eat. When purchasing them from farmers markets confirm that they are not part of a current recall. A list of current recalls can be found of the Home & Garden Information Center website.

To safely prepare cantaloupes and melons follow these steps:

  • Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing and/or eating. Produce that looks rotten or moldy should be discarded.
  • Any unpackaged fruits or vegetable, as well as those packaged and not marked pre-washed, should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.
  • Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush and running water. It is not recommended to use soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash for cleaning fruits and vegetables.
  • Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

For detailed information on fresh fruit safety see HGIC 3517, Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits & Vegetables.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.