by Mary Lou Chapman/president of the Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association
Special to The Shelby Report
All fresh produce should be washed well before eating. Last year’s extremely unfortunate cantaloupe incident reminds us that not all customers follow this advice. Grocers can play a role in helping consumers feel confident that they can purchase melons, and prepare them safely for their families, this year.
When we think of the number of hands that touch our fresh foods, both before and after they have left the packing shed—including while they are in the store—there should be no question that washing is needed.
In addition to their time in the distribution system and your stores, melons—like potatoes—spend their growing life in the dirt. Few people would think to eat a potato without washing it, and most potatoes are cooked before eating. Melons, on the other hand, are typically eaten raw…without the bacteria-killing help of applied heat. Cantaloupe also have little “pockets” on their surface where dirt and bacteria can collect, making them even more susceptible to harboring these unfavorable elements. These bacteria can be carried through the meat of the melon when a knife is drawn through it.
Here is the method for washing cantaloupe that we have used in our home for many years. It takes a small amount of time prior to serving to help ensure safety.
1. Rinse the melon under running water. (Don’t place it into water and let it sit, as the skin is porous.)
2. At this point we add mild soap and scrub the melon well with a soft vegetable brush. (We used to use “baby soap,” which we chose because we know that babies are prone to chewing on their wash cloths during a bath and these products are generally pretty digestible in the event that a tiny bit of residue is not rinsed out; we now use mild dish soap and are careful to rinse very well, which is the next step. You can skip the soap if you are leery, and are careful to brush and rinse well. It should be noted that the USDA does not at this time recommend using soap on vegetables, because of lack of assurance of consumer actions. In light of the 2011 incident, all methods are currently being studied.)
3. Rinse well under cool water. If you wish, you can also use your vegetable brush again after rinsing it well.
4. The next step is extremely important: As important as rinsing well is patting dry with paper towels. Again, bacteria can harbor in the little pockets on the surface, so this step is crucial.
Let the melon air-dry for a while before cutting into the surface.
Cut as you desire and enjoy.