What’s Wrong with This Picture?

I just can’t take a vacation from food safety. We recently took a wonderful trip to Europe, and like all good foodies, I had to check out the markets and grocery stores to get a feel for what the locals were buying and eating. At a fabulous market in Spain, I took these photos of a gentleman cutting a watermelon for display and sale.

Spanish Market

What’s wrong with this picture?

Cut Melon

Or this one?

There are several potential food safety concerns in just these two photos: Did the man wash his hands before cutting the melon? Was the outside of the melon washed before it was cut? Was the knife clean? What about the cleanliness of the surface? Did he store it on ice after it was cut? From what I observed, none of these precautions were taken in this particular situation.

Washing melons or other fresh fruit before cutting reduces bacteria that may be present on the surface. These bacteria could be from the soil in which the product grew, or perhaps on the hands of the person who picked it. They could also be on the hands of the shipper, or in this case, the market owner. Some people think that since you don’t eat the rind of a melon, it’s not necessary to wash it, but if the rind is not washed before cutting, any bacteria that might be on the rind could be transferred to the moist center of the fruit — where it could easily grow and multiply. I had similar concerns about the cutting surface and the knife (how many unwashed melons were cut with the same knife that morning?) Also, cut fruit should be refrigerated; it should have been placed on ice. Needless to say, we didn’t buy this melon.

While this photo was taken in Spain, I’m sure that that wasn’t the only market where food wasn’t treated as safely as it should have been.

This is one of those situations when the consumer needs to be alert and use caution. If you’re shopping at farmers’ markets or grocery stores that sell sectioned or fresh-cut fruit, make sure you choose a place that keeps food safety in mind. When you’re tempted to taste a sample or purchase something, look around and made sure that the person offering the sample or selling the item is using good food safety practices. These practices include: washing the produce before cutting it, wearing clean gloves, using a clean knife and keeping items cold as necessary.

Don’t take risks with food safety.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

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updated on 10-25-2020