Melons have been grown in Nevada for generations, are suited to sustainable desert food production, and are known to be extra sweet as a result. However, melons are considered high risk produce due to their inherent characteristics and recent outbreaks. Melons are low in acid and high in water content; ripe fruit maintains its quality when stored at higher temperatures (typically 44-50° F); they grow in contact with the soil; and they are eaten raw. These qualities – in combination with the ‘netted’ and porous rind of some varieties – make melons more susceptible to pathogens that can make people ill. Between 1996 and 2008, more than 500 illnesses and 2 deaths were attributed to contaminated melons. Several notable outbreaks also occurred in 2011, including a Listeria outbreak from a family farm in Colorado and a Salmonella outbreak originating in Kentucky that resulted in the deaths of more than 40 Americans and farm bankruptcies (Western Kentucky University, 2020; Lytton, 2019). Produce safety needs to be taken into consideration during melon production. This fact sheet highlights the latest guidance, practices and resources for melon growers.
University extension services, marketing associations and researchers have developed melon-specific guidance in recent years (see Resources below). Key on-farm practices from this guidance are highlighted below.
- Carefully choose, apply and schedule soil amendment: Schedule application of soil amendments to avoid contact with flowers and fruit. Allow 120 days between application of any raw biological amendments (such as raw manure) or untested soil amendments and melon harvest. Read more about safe use of soil amendments here.
- Control animal activity in fields and examine crop for contamination before harvest: Visibly contaminated melons should be removed from fields and discarded.
- Time harvest to avoid wet weather and irrigation splash: Allow for drying and pathogen die off after a rain event or irrigation.
- Exclude damaged melons from harvest: Melons that are cracked, bruised, dropped or are otherwise visibly damaged should be removed from fields and discarded. Pathogens can easily enter the fruit and multiply in the low acid, high water content interior.
- Don’t overfill harvest containers or packaging: Overfilling can lead to bruising, cracking and other melon damage that could facilitate pathogen growth.
- Wash melons carefully: Only wash melons with clean water that meets the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule and ensure that the fruit is not more than 10 degrees warmer that wash water. A temperature difference can allow pathogens to infiltrate melons – be absorbed into the flesh – via the stem cut and any damaged areas on the rind. Guidance for commercial growers on sanitizers for washing melons can be found in this resource from the University of Florida Extension. Note: dish soap should not be used on produce.
- Manage all food contact surfaces carefully: Between uses make sure to clean (scrub with appropriate soap and brush then rinse with clean water) and sanitize all surfaces that come into contact with melons. This includes tools and equipment, harvest containers and washing/packing surfaces. And don’t forget farm worker hands and clothing – prioritize hygiene practices! Melon packaging should be single use or cleaned and sanitized between uses. Check and follow the EPA label on cleaning products.
- Maintain the ‘cold chain’: Keep melons in cold storage (maximum temperature of 55°) from harvest until eaten.
The Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) provides free assistance with produce safety planning and visits farms statewide. DFI also works with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to offer ongoing Produce Safety Alliance trainings and focused workshops. Contact us with any questions.
Lytton, Timothy D. 2019. Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety (accessed September 2020).
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. 2020. Good Agricultural Practices for the Production and Handling of Melons (accessed 2020).
Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. 2005. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Melon Supply Chain (accessed August 2020).
Produce Safety Alliance (accessed August 2020).
University of California-Davis. 2020. Commodity Specific Food Safety Information (accessed September 2020).
University of Florida IFAS Extension. 2012. Growth, Reduction, and Survival of Bacteria on Melon Types (accessed September 2020).
University of Florida IFAS Extension. 2018. Melons: Safe Handling Practices for Consumers (accessed August 2020).
Western Kentucky University. Good Agricultural Practices for Melons (accessed August 2020).