Luke Runyon recently wrote an informative post for Harvest Public Media focused on why the cantaloupe, more than other melon varieties, seems to keep cropping up in news stories about outbreaks of foodborne illness. (I previously posted about one such outbreak.) Runyon explains,
Studies show cantaloupe is more likely to carry bacteria than most other produce, even more than its cousins in the melon family, like honeydew and watermelon. Cantaloupe regularly makes the top five in fresh fruit and vegetables likely to cause an outbreak, according to Doug Powell, professor and food safety expert at Kansas State University. Though, outside of the realm of fresh fruit, produce accounts for a small percentage of foodborne illnesses, at about 13 percent in 2005….
[Colorado State University food microbiologist Larry] Goodridge said from farm to table, there are many places where melons can be subjected to bacterial growth, whether on the rind or in the cantaloupe’s flesh. They’re also dense with water, which make them susceptible to the growth of listeria, salmonella, and E. coli.
“Bacteria love water to grow,” Goodridge said. “Inside the melon, there are a lot of nutrients. The pH of the flesh is neutral and bacteria love that.”
On the production and processing side of things, there are also increased chances of cantaloupe contamination. Unlike in many other fruits, bacteria can still grow inside cantaloupe after it has been picked.