Perhaps one of the most refreshing non-alcoholic summer snacks available, slices of cantaloupe melon are always welcome on a hot day. Sometimes called muskmelons or Persian melons, a cantaloupe is generally any melon with orange flesh and a netted skin.
Unfortunately for some, this great summer snack can result in a trip to the Emergency Room as cantaloupe melons are the third most common cause of produce-related foodborne illness in the US.
In this post I consider how to handle cantaloupe melons safely to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, as well as discussing what to look for when selecting a melon and why cantaloupe is a nutritious as well as tasty snack.
Further on in the post, I also provide a step by step tutorial on how to slice a cantaloupe melon ready for a fruit platter, and although there are many different ways to prepare a cantaloupe melon - with or without its rind on - slicing for a platter is probably one of the most common and easiest ways to prepare it. In the tutorial, I also mention how to prepare it as wedges as well as slices.
Cantaloupe Melons and Food Safety
Cantaloupe melons belong to the Cucurbitaceae family of plants and have shallow ribs and a webbed surface – which is a network of semi-porous and fibrous tissue. Over 90% of cantaloupes are grown in Arizona, California and Texas and between the period of 2000 and 2009, cantaloupes were the third most common produce item to cause foodborne illness in the US (after greens and tomatoes).
The most common type of foodborne illness caused by cantaloupes is salmonella, although cases of E. coli 0157 and Campylobacter have also been seen, along with listeria. The most memorable outbreak of listeria in the US from cantaloupes was the outbreak of 2011 that infected 147 people and killed over 30.
Imported cantaloupes are often the main cause of foodborne illness, but there have been outbreaks linked to US farms also, including the 2011 listeria outbreak which was linked back to a Colorado farm.
How cantaloupes grow and then the harvesting and packaging of them, along with the rind webbing makes them more susceptible to harboring bacteria and other pathogens on the rind. Many of these pathogens are naturally found in the soil and water used for growing the melons in.
Some producers do disinfect cantaloupes when processed, but others do not disinfect, instead they just use a washing step. This is why it is vital that cantaloupes (and any type of melon) are always washed thoroughly before being cut.
As consumers, as well as washing the rind thoroughly under running water with a clean vegetable brush (or similar) it is recommended that we use cantaloupes soon after purchase.
We are also advised to rinse our knife after each cut and once a melon has been prepared it should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within two or three days.
Cantaloupe Melon Nutrition
The good water and electrolyte (potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium) content of cantaloupe is what makes it such a refreshing snack in summer or even after exercise.
A cup of cantaloupe melon contains around 10% of our daily potassium intake, of which adults should consume around 4,700 milligrams (mg) of every day to help keep blood pressure levels down and our heart healthy.
Cantaloupe melons are naturally low in calories and as well as containing water, they also contains fiber – around 1.6 grams per cup - essential for good digestive health.
Like other fruits, cantaloupe melon is also a source of antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin C and tocopherol. These antioxidants can help to combat some of the damage in our bodies that can contribute to cancer, heart disease and other conditions.
Beta carotene is what converts to vitamin A in the body and is seen in orange and yellow fruits. A cup of cantaloupe will provide between a fifth and a quarter of our daily beta carotene intake (depending on whether you are male or female). Beta carotene is linked with asthma prevention and vitamin A is essential for tissue growth and repair throughout the body.
Vitamin C is needed for wound healing, protein metabolism and the formation of collagen – important for healthy skin, bone, tendons, cartilage, blood vessels and more. Adult males should consume between 75 and 90 mg of vitamin C every day and females should consume between 65 and 75 mg. One cup of cantaloupe will provide 65 mg of vitamin C, or the recommended daily intake for females.
Two other antioxidants found in cantaloupe, lutein and zeaxanthin are linked with having protective benefits for eye health and may help to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration or AMD occurring as we age.
Although cantaloupe is also a source of folate, which is vital for those who are pregnant, the risk of acquiring listeria from eating cantaloupe means that some may prefer to avoid it. If you do want to continue eating cantaloupe during pregnancy, then advice issued in Australia after a recent 2018 listeria outbreak (caused by cantaloupes) is that pregnant women should avoid eating any ‘pre-cut’ melon, or in other words, always prepare a melon snack yourself at home from a fresh whole melon.
Selecting A Cantaloupe Melon
Although in this post we are focusing on cantaloupe melons, the same principles apply when selecting any kind of melon. If possible, always try to buy when in season locally. Depending on where you live this will usually be from summer to mid Fall.
First of all take a moment to inspect the melon outer. Avoid buying one that has bruising, cracks, soft spots or other damage to the outer as this can increase the risk of pathogens inside the melon.
Take a look at its color. Depending on the variety, most North American cantaloupes (Cucumis melo reticultus) are gold or orangey underneath the white netting. Some varieties such as ‘true’ cantaloupes (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) are green and may be partly netted with pronounced ribs. Asian or Persian cantaloupes tend to be more oblong in shape with yellow or green rinds with less pronounced netting.
Always look for a melon that feels heavy for its size and if you hold the stem end up to your nose it should also have a fragrant cantaloupe smell.
Pro Tip: When buying from the grocery store, melons are usually under-ripe, so you may need to leave it at room temperature for a day or so to allow it to ripen. If you give the cantaloupe a gentle shake and its seeds rattle a little, then it is ripe and ready to eat. If you are not ready to cut it up at this point, then put the cantaloupe in the refrigerator to not only prevent further ripening but to keep it cold for when you are ready to eat it.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
- Cantaloupe melon
- Vegetable brush – or similar to clean the outer rind of the melon with.
- Large chef’s knife – this will need to be large enough for the size of cantaloupe you will be cutting. It should also be sharp.
- Ice cream scoop – to scoop out the inner seeds. You can use a large spoon either.
- Cutting board – to place the melon on while cutting.
- Paper towels – for drying off and covering the cutting board with.
- Countertop cleanser or sanitizing spray – for cleaning the cutting board with
Optional: A dab of antibacterial soap or a food-safe liquid for rinsing the outer with.
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1: Clean the cantaloupe
Rinse the cantaloupe under slightly warm water while scrubbing it well with your vegetable brush. I sometimes add a dab of antibacterial soap as well. Some may prefer to rinse the rind with a very mild white vinegar and water solution to remove pathogens from the rind, and as the rind is being cut away, it is not a problem to use a mild food-safe disinfectant at this point.
Once washed, use paper towels to remove the excess water from the melon rind.
Step 2: Prepare the cutting board
Place some paper towel on your cutting board to soak up some of the excess juice then place your freshly washed and dried cantaloupe on the cutting board. You can also place your cutting board inside a large edged baking pan if you want to prevent excess juice from running everywhere.
Step 3: Prepare melon for slicing
Place the melon onto your cutting board and using your knife, take a slice off the top and the bottom of the cantaloupe. Not only does this remove the stem, but it also stops the melon from rolling around when you start slicing into it. Rinse your knife.
Pro Tip: You are recommended to rinse your knife after every cut to reduce the risk of foodborne illness
Step 4a: Remove rind (optional)
If you want to serve your melon on a platter without the rind, then sit the cantaloupe on its top or bottom on the cutting board and using your knife, slice the rind away from top to bottom.
Keep your knife in line with the curve of the melon. Depending on the shape of the melon, you may need to turn it upside down and repeat the slicing from the opposite end. Once you have removed the majority of the main rind, you can then go back and slice off any small bits left on the melon. It may look a little odd at this point, but once sliced up, it will look fine.
Pro Tip: You are recommended to rinse your knife after every cut to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Some people prefer to remove the rind from the pieces once sliced but I personally think that this can increase the risk of contamination, and it can take longer to prepare it this way.
Once you have removed the rind, dispose of it along with the kitchen paper from the cutting board and wipe over the board with your sanitizer or countertop cleanser before adding fresh kitchen paper to the cutting board.
Rinse the rind-free melon, pat dry with a clean paper towel and replace on the cutting board.
Step 5: Halve the melon
With the melon sitting on its top or bottom (with or without its rind), slice through it with your clean knife to cut it into two halves. Rinse your knife.
Step 6: Remove seeds
Using the ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop out all of the seeds from the inner and discard. Make sure the scoop or spoon removes everything from the inner and leaves it nice and smooth.
Step 7: Slice melon
To slice for a fruit platter, place half of the melon - cavity side down - onto the cutting board and use your knife to evenly slice crossways from the top edge to the bottom edge.
Slices of around a quarter of an inch thickness are usually fine for a fruit platter but if the cantaloupe is quite ripe, you may need slightly thicker slices, so it is still easy for people to pick up.
If you want to cut your cantaloupe into wedges instead, then place the melon half cavity down on the cutting board and cut it in half again from top to bottom. Turn the slice over and cut it one more from top to bottom (this will give you four top to bottom slices or crescents per half of melon).
You can then cut across the crescent slices to make wedges. If the wedges are a little big, then just cut the wedge once more.
Pro Tip: All melons can be cut following this step by step tutorial except you do not need to follow step 6 to remove the seeds.
Step 8: Arrange the cantaloupe
Once you have your slices or wedges you can then arrange these on your platter and cover and store in the refrigerator until needed. You may want to avoid serving up all the cantaloupe at once as melon left at room temperature for two hours should be disposed of to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
I hope that this tutorial on cutting a cantaloupe melon for a fruit platter has been useful, and that not only do you now know how to easily prepare a cantaloupe, but you also know how to cut it safely to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Feel free to share this article with your family and friends and if you would like to leave any comments on cantaloupes in the section below, then feel free to do so.