Steaming cantaloupes effectively kills pathogens

Steam can rid the outside of cantaloupes of E. coli, salmonella and listeria more effectively than existing washes and chlorine treatments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dike Ukuku and other researchers at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Unit in Pennsylvania tested a relatively inexpensive steam cleaner designed to remove wallpaper and clean outdoor grills on ridding cantaloupes of pathogens. Not only does it work, according to the study, but it appears to be more effective than existing washes and chlorine treatments, according to a news release.

The study involved submerging cantaloupes in a bath inoculated with pathogens. After drying and refrigeration, the cantaloupes were cleaned with a commercially available power steamer, according to the release.

The method created enough heat to kill surface pathogens but not enough heat to damage the interior of the uncut fruit, according to the release.

Compared with melons treated with chlorine, the release said pathogens on steam-treated cantaloupes were about 100 times lower.

Processors and distributors could apply steam when cantaloupes are put into washers or as they are moved on conveyor belts during processing, Ukuku said in the release.

The technique also may effectively sanitize watermelons, honeydews, cucumbers and baby carrots.

The new technology could reduce the number of foodborne disease outbreaks from contaminated produce, according to the release.