I'll take a slice of lemon with fecal bacteria please.

by Paul Michael on 20 February 2008 25 comments
Photo: LollyKnit

I’ve never thought twice about the humble lemon slice. I’m sure most of you haven’t either. And as I’m partial to a slice of lemon in my water or iced tea, for added flavor, I usually request it at restaurants. After seeing this video, I think I’d be safer asking for slice of raw chicken in my drink.

A study brought to light by healthinspections.com reveals that those innocent lemon slices you get in restaurants are loaded with bacteria, fecal matter and all sorts of other nasties.

"It was like they had dipped it in raw meat or something; it was gross!” exclaimed Anne LaGrange, a microbiologist who tested several lemons from various restaurants and was shocked at the results. "The very first sample that we took was loaded with fecal bacteria."

Here's the full video :

 

In fact, from the 21 restaurant samples they tested, a staggering 77% of the wedges, 3 out of 4 (not 2 out of 3 as pointed out by an eagle-eyed reader), contained disease-causing bacteria. Yuck.

Why is this happening? In simple terms, a mix of poor hygiene and cross-contamination. Restaurant workers should use tongs or gloves when they slice and serve the wedges, but they usually don’t. And often, the only explanation for the amount of bacteria found is that the lemons are being sliced using a knife and/or cutting board that was used for preparing raw meat.

So, by all means add a slice of lemon at home. But now, when you’re out and about you may want to skip the lemons. This is definitely one of those cases where you can’t quite make lemonade out of the lemons life serves you.

Thanks go to Skip Koebbeman for bringing this one to my attention.

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Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

ewww..that's freaking scary.  my friend is pregnant and she always asks for lemon with her water.  I need to tell her this.

Guest's picture
Jesse

Ignorance was bliss. I always get limes with my water, margarita, pacificos etc. I am sure they are just as bad as the lemons. Ignorance in this case was bliss :(

Paul Michael's picture

a few cases of seriously bad tum that I've had after eating the same meal as my friends. I often ask for the lemon, they don't. Blergh. Not everything that's free and tasty is worth it.

Guest's picture
Looby

We had a guest lecture from a health inspector at uni, he recommended always ask for no ice and no lemon/lime, as these harboured the highest levels of bacteria. He also told us to try and forget much of the rest of his talk in order for us to ever be able to eat out anywhere, ever again!

Guest's picture

Since when did 77% become 2 out of 3. In my book that is 3 out of 4.

Paul Michael's picture

I took the statistic straight from the video. But that is 3 out of 4. I'll change it pronto.

Guest's picture
Guest

there's fecal matter on everything, even (and probably especially) the stuff you prepare at home. relax, not a big deal.

Guest's picture
Jul

Eeeeeew.

Catherine Shaffer's picture

The words "fecal bacteria" get a big rise out of people, but they're just talking about e. coli. No, it's not a great thing to have in your food, but the stuff is everywhere. It floats around in the air. At one point, there was a big deal about putting your toothbrush in a cabinet or something, because supposedly it would get fecal bacteria on it from the toilet flushing. I think it was on Mythbusters were they found that just as much "fecal bacteria" ended up on toothbrushes stored in the kitchen. Unless you're immune-compromised, it's nothing to worry about excessively. My mom was told not to eat any raw fruits or veggies at all while on chemo, because they all have potentially dangerous bacteria on them, if you have no immune system.

My guess for the high bacteria count is that no one thinks to wash lemons before slicing them. I know I don't. But we probably should if we are going to throw it, skin and all, into a drink.

Restaurant workers use their bare hands to prepare lots of other foods, and I use mine to prepare food at home, so I'm not worried about that. I'd much rather assume (hope) that they are washing up frequently.
 

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

Linsey Knerl's picture

washed the lemons that we put in the drinks when I worked at restaurants. Or at least I did.  But if you think the lemons are gross from a restaurant, you would freak if you saw the stuff we were supposed to put into drinks behind the bar.  My bartending days saw the same 5 olives sitting out on the counter night after night (only being covered and put away overnight) for almost 2 months!  If I was making drinks, I'd just fish some fresh ones out of the jar (with a utensil, of course), or tell my friends NEVER to order a martini.....

Guest's picture
MoneyMark

I loved getting lemons with my water at restaurants, it was one of those things that made being frugal somewhat worth it. A little lemon, and a little bit of sweet and low in the water just to give it a kick. A seemingly better substitute that soda. Plus, water is usually free.

My new awareness of the bacteria levels of lemon now make me wonder if there is even bacteria in the tap water they give us?

Is it safer to just order soda?

Guest's picture
Kham Tran

That's so nasty! I think I'll be thinking twice about dropping that slice of lemon into my Corona next time.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you!!! How eye opening.

Guest's picture
Matt

There is a product called True Lemon which is crystallized lemon sold in packets. It tastes pretty decent too. So this could be a substitute if you're especially concerned about restaurant lemons. However, I'd avoid it if possible, due to the obvious environmental impact of introducing extra packaging. Just want to let you know it is an option.

Guest's picture
Guest

Re: Comment #12
> Is it safer to just order soda?

The water and soda usually come out of the same machine, and honestly if you saw the machine taken down at night you probably wouldn't want to order either. Really, it's best to just not think too much about what's going on in a restaurant kitchen. Germs are a fact of life.

Guest's picture
Adfecto

Ick. I almost always get water w/ a slice of lemon when I go out to eat (saves money right?). Now consider something else. Thankfully I am a healthy person with a robust immune system. Because there was such a high rate of contamination I'm sure I've been exposed before. That must mean that my body is doing its job because I've not had food poisoning... well, ever! Maybe we are just taking this germ phobia too far. I've heard (I should source this but I'm too lazy at the moment) that we are creating a new wave of super bugs from our over use of anti-bacterial soaps, sprays, cleaners, and medications. We need start picking our battles and let our immune system do its job sometimes. Wash your hands, yes. Clean every nook and cranny of your house, including the places you will never eat from our even touch (antibacterial floor cleaner anyone?), with germ killing suds.

Guest's picture
kathy lynn

Ya know....to think I've lived 43 years and have survived putting lemon on nearly everything I order at restaurants.....I agree...we're being so germaphobic that we are creating superbugs like MRSA. We all just need to have common sense and just chill out.

Guest's picture
Guest

In the old days a busboy would remove the plates and glasses and the waiter would only serve food. Today, the wait staff is both server and busboy. Next time you eat out, observe the waiter handling the dirty dishes and silverware, watch him grab 4 glasses with his fingers immersed in them. Then watch him serve the food, moving items on the plate, giving you silverware, serving drinks, all with his fingers reeking of dozens of customers and their viruses,bacteria, and fungai . Then watch him clean off the table with that filthy rag that hasn't been washed in two weeks.
Then go to your fast food joint and watch the girl handling money and giving you the drink cup with her fingers over the top or inside of it. Then she will go in the back to prepare your order, never washing her hands, then she will collect the trays and clean them off with the same washcloth that is never washed, Off to the restroom and leaving without washing her hands.
And now you know why the top selling over the counter medicines and prescription drugs are for indigestion, heartburn, stomach bloat, diarrhea, gas, and nausea.
Happy dining out!

Guest's picture
Guest

i totally agree i wash my hands about a dozen of times in my own house never mind anywhere else i wash all my fruits and vegetables and the tops of my cans because they sit in the warehouse collecting dust rats mind you probably urine on them which is toxic to our bodies and kill you. people now a days are nasty what do you mean in your time it wasn't all these problems well you wonder why people die with no causes or they have cancer or whatever if i can prevent things and take the time to wash things i will and if im going to pay to eat out i don't want to someone with gloves on handling money and not change their gloves and start preparing my food, or even being super clean before handling my food thats why i try to mainly eat at home where i know it is safe and nasty people are not touching my food

Guest's picture
Guest

If they're slicing the lemons on the same cutting board as the meat, where are they slicing the stuff for the salads? It's no wonder that some places I cannot eat the salads. Eating the salad is a surefire way for me to get "severe intestinal upset." Oh these types of things always make me stop eating out for a time. The I forget and get tired of my own cooking and go out again.

Guest's picture

I understand the concern, but if you take cultures after swabbing any food anywhere, you'll probably get something frightful. Our bodies are very good at wiping out infections, which we're exposed to through more than lemons.

Guest's picture
Guest

That is what your have an immune system for!!! If you keep trying to clean up everything out it will never get its workout.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thats nasty.. ill NO longer be aking for lemons in my drinks....i want myself 2 stay clean as possible for what i can be able to control at least....Thanks...

Guest's picture
Guest

News flash! There is fecal bacteria on your toothbrush! Please stop brushing immediately!