Wash the Rind to Leave Bacteria Behind

Wash the Rind to Leave Bacteria Behind

The peak of summer brings ripe, delicious melons, like cantaloupe and watermelon, from the farm to your table. Watermelons are not only refreshing, they’re also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene.

What’s so special about lycopene? Lycopene gives watermelon its red color and does something more. It may help protect against cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. Although lycopene is more commonly associated with tomatoes, there is more lycopene in watermelon than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. But hold off on enjoying it icy cold. To get more lycopene from your watermelon, serve it at room temperature.

Whole watermelon stored and served at room temperature can have up to 40 percent more lycopene than refrigerated watermelon. At room temperature, watermelon continues to ripen, producing additional lycopene. Just make sure to refrigerate the watermelon within two hours after cutting it to avoid food-borne illness. If you prefer a cold taste, chill it right before serving.

Of course, watermelons aren’t the only melons packed with nutrients. Cantaloupes are a good source of potassium, along with vitamins A and C. When slicing and dicing any of your melon favorites, be sure to keep it clean — melon rinds can host harmful bacteria.

When fruit is cut, bacteria on the surface can be transferred to the flesh. Here are some tips to reduce your chance from food-borne illness from melons:

  • Avoid buying melons that are bruised or damaged. When choosing fresh cut produce, ensure it’s refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • Refrigerate fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting. Throw away sliced or cut up produce after it’s been at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Wash all melons with cool tap water right before eating. Don’t use soap or detergents. Scrub melons with a clean produce brush. Cut away bruised or damaged areas before eating.
  • Wash hands with hot soapy water before and after handling fresh melons. Clean prep surfaces often. Cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops should always be washed with hot soapy water after coming in contact with fresh produce, raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • 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.

From their sugary centers to their sweet juice, melons can attract all kinds of bio bugs -- which can bring disease with them. When you consider everything melons  touch after being picked during, packing, storage and shipping surfaces, melons can have all kinds of bacteria growing on them. When you jab a knife into a melon, you can push all the bacteria into its fruity center if you haven’t washed it first.

As with any food preparation, utensils, knives and cutting boards should be cleaned in hot, soapy water before and after use. And they should not be cross-contaminated with other foods, particularly uncooked meat products.

Remember: wash, wash, wash your fruit before you eat it! And as the CDC suggests: “When in doubt, throw it out.” 

These steps can help to prevent food-borne illness from bacteria. Should you suffer with a bout of food poisoning occur and need to see a doctor, remember, where you go matters! Make sure to do your research about ERs versus urgent care now, and know when it's time to be seen in case of emergency. 

Sources: Top Nine Health Benefits of Eating Watermelon,   Healthline, 2020; Lycopene Health Benefits and Top Food Sources,   Healthline, 2018; Outbreak of Salmonella Infections Linked to Pre-Cut Melons,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.

Originally published 7/11/2016; Revised 2021

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