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Remedies for cantaloupe’s food safety problems

orange flesh melon

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may have ruled that the latest string of outbreaks of cantaloupe-linked salmonella is over, but food safety litigator Bill Marler is understandably exercised about the persistent problem.

In a January 20 article in Food Safety News, he writes, “In the United States as of today, a total of 407 people infected with one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from 44 states. . . Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 15, 2023, to December 25, 2023. Of 362 people with information available, 158 (44%) were hospitalized. Six deaths were reported.”

Headshot of Richard Smoley

The problem with cantaloupes, however persistent and apparently irremediable, is well understood. The mesh skin of the fruit traps microbes that are not easily removed by cleaning. Even if you buy a whole cantaloupe, you are going to cut it up yourself, so your knife blade can transfer the microbes to the part that you are going to eat.

There are two apparent solutions. One is to perfect scrubbing and sanitizing technology in packing sheds so that not a single cell of harmful microbes remains on the rind. If such technology exists, it is not being implemented widely enough.

Another solution is smooth-skinned cantaloupes, whose exteriors are far less likely to harbor harmful bacteria.

Similar products already exist; you can buy them from Jewel Osco for 99 cents a pound.

But this, like other specimens, is known rather prosaically as an “orange-fleshed melon.”

Someone who likes and wants the unique taste of cantaloupe is not going to be sure that this orange-fleshed item is going to provide the same thing.

Moreover, my admittedly hazy recollection of these orange-fleshed melons is that they taste more like honeydews than cantaloupes, and although both are great in their own ways, they are not identical.

Does the industry have a genuine smooth-skinned cantaloupe coming along? I have no idea, although knowing the peculiar genius that awakens in Americans when there is money to be made, I suspect there is.

It would then be a matter of marketing savvy to decide whether these smooth-skinned cantaloupes should be sold as novelties or as safe versions of the old rough-skinned varieties, or both. But really this is a technicality.

Of course it can be done. It wasn’t so long ago that seedless watermelons were inconceivable.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.