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Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality


Trevor V. Suslow
Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

Maturity & Quality

Maturity Indices

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus Thunb.) are harvested at full maturity as they typically do not develop in internal color or increase in sugars after being removed from the vine. The ground spot (the portion of the melon resting on the soil) changes from pale white to a creamy yellow at proper harvest maturity. Another indicator used at harvest include a wilted but not fully desiccated vine tendril proximal to the stem-end attachment. Destructive sampling is used to judge maturity of a population of watermelons. For seeded cultivars, maturity is reached when the gelatinous covering (aril) around the seed is no longer apparent and the seed coat is hard. Cultivars vary widely in soluble solids at maturity. In general, a soluble solids content of at least 10% in the flesh near the center of the melon is an indicator of proper maturity if the flesh is also firm, crisp and of good color.

Quality Indices

  • Watermelons should be symmetrical and uniform in appearance
  • The surface should be waxy and bright in appearance
  • Absence of scars, sunburn, transit abrasions or other surface defects or dirt
  • No evidence of bruising
  • Appears heavy for size

U.S. grades Fancy, No. 1, and No. 2. Distinction among grades is based predominantly on external appearances.

Maturity & Quality Photos

Title: Minimum Color U.S. Grade Standards

Photo Credit: Adel Kader, UC Davis 

Temperature & Controlled Atmosphere

Optimum Temperature

10-15°C (50-59°F) Storage life is typically 14 days at 15°C (59°F) with up to 21 days attainable at 7-10°C (45-50°F).

For short-term storage or transit to distant markets (>7 days), most recommendations use 7.2°C (45°F) and 85-90% R.H. as the acceptable handling conditions. Watermelons are, however, prone to chilling injury at this temperature. Extended holding at this temperature will induce chilling injury, rapidly evident after transfer to typical retail display temperatures.

Many watermelons are still shipped without precooling or refrigeration during transit. These fruit must be utilized for prompt market sales as quality declines rapidly under these conditions.

Optimum Relative Humidity

85-90%; High relative humidity is generally advisable to reduce desiccation and loss of glossiness.

Rates of Respiration

°C       °F
ml CO2/kg·hr
0 32 NR
5 41 3-4
10 50 6-9
15 59 NA
20 68 17-25
25 77 NA

To calculate heat production multiply ml CO2/kg·hr by 440 to get Btu/ton/ day or by 122 to get kcal/metric ton/day.
NR - not recommended due to chilling injury.
NA - not available.

Rates of Ethylene Production

Low: 0.1-1.0 µl/kg·hr at 20°C (68°F)

Responses to Ethylene

Exposure to an ethylene concentrations as low as 5ppm for 7 days at 18°C (64°F) will cause unacceptable loss of firmness and eating quality.

Responses to Controlled Atmospheres (CA)

Controlled atmosphere storage or shipping are not recognized as offering controlled benefits for watermelon.


Physiological and Physical Disorders

Chilling injury. Typically occurs after storage at temperatures < 7°C (45°F) Disorders for several days. Symptoms of chilling injury include pitting, decline in flesh color, loss of flavor, off-flavors and increased decay when returned to room temperatures.

Improper handling and loading of bulk watermelons too often result in serious transit losses due to bruising and cracking. Internal bruising leads to premature flesh breakdown and mealiness.

Pathological Disorders

Disease can be an important source of postharvest loss depending on season, Disorders region and local climatic conditions at harvest. Generally these losses are low in comparison with physical injury due to bruising and rough handling. Black Rot, caused by Didymella bryoniae, Anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum orbiculare, and Phytophthora Fruit Rot are common in areas with high rainfall and humidity during production and harvest An extensive list of stem-end, blossom-end, rind decay or surface lesions may occur, including the bacterium Erwinia and the fungal pathogens Alternaria, Botrytis, Cladosporium, Geotrichum, Rhizopus, and occasionally Mucor, Fusarium, and Tricothecium.

Special Considerations

Cut watermelon for slices or cubes for fresh-cut fruit salads have a very short period of optimal quality. Flesh becomes water-soaked and mealy. Varietal performance for fresh-cut is not currently available.

Disorders Photos

Title: Anthracnose (1)

Photo Credit: CDFA 

Title: Anthracnose (2)

Photo Credit: CDFA 

Title: Botrytis Stem End Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis 

Title: Lasiodiplodia Rot

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis


February 1997

Use of Materials

The UC Postharvest Technology Center grants users permission to download textual pages (including PDF files) from this World Wide Web site for personal use or to reproduce them for educational purposes, but credit lines and copyright notices within the pages must not be removed or modified.

Except for these specified uses, no part of the textual materials available on the UC Postharvest Technology Center Web site may be copied, downloaded, stored in a retrieval system, further transmitted or otherwise reproduced, stored, disseminated, transferred or used, in any form or by any means, except as permitted herein or with the University of California's prior written agreement. Request permission from UC Postharvest Technology Center. Distribution for commercial purposes is prohibited.

The information in this fact sheet represents our best understanding of the current state of knowledge at the time of the latest update, and does not represent an exhaustive review of all research results. Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.

How to Cite

Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)

Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality. (Accessed January 18, 2014).

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