A few months ago a small study got quite a bit of press. A microbiologist and assistant professor of science at a community college in New Jersey, Anne Lagrange-Loving, decided to sample 76 lemon wedges served with water and soda from 21 different restaurants around New Jersey and was published in the Journal of Environmental Health in Dec 2007.
The study found that 69.7% of the lemon slices had some microbial growth- 24.5% of which had microbes on the rind only, 20.8% had microbes only on the flesh and 54.7% had growth on both. A total of 25 different microorganisms, including fecal bacteria and yeasts, were found.
“It was gross” as Loving said!
According to Loving, it wasn’t possible to identify the origins of the microorganisms but the enterobacteriaceae and nonfermentative Gramnegative bacilli could have come from the fingertips of a restaurant employee via human fecal or from raw-meat or poultry contamination. The gram-positive cocci and Corynebacterium isolates may have been introduced from the skin or mouth of anyone who handled the lemons. The Bacillus bacteria could have come from airborne spores landing on the fruit or on the knife used to cut the lemons.
Although food safety laws state that these lemon slices should be handled with gloved hands, they’re not always!
The study didn’t determine what likelihood of contracting infectious diseases these lemon wedges is but points to a potential problem that requires further investigation. In the past, it was thought that the acid in the lemons provided a natural antimicrobial barrier but this study has refuted that. The study also suggests that other beverage garnishes be swabbed, such as olives, limes, celery, and cherries, and to investigate whether alcoholic beverages destroys more of the bacteria.
Next time you get a drink, you may want to forgo the lemon slice.
Just for fun... lemons and babies- it's too funny!