Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A study found dangerous microbial growth on 70% of lemon slices served with beverages in restaurants.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, February 2008]
However, this study in itself doesn't demonstrate that restaurant patrons are at high risk for contracting some serious illnesses due to food workers' not observing sufficiently rigorous sanitary standards. For one thing, the study did not determine the origins of the microbial contaminants:
It is not possible to definitively identify the origins of the microorganisms. While the Enterobacteriaceae and nonfermentative Gramnegative bacilli could have come from the fingertips of a restaurant employee via human fecal or raw-meat or poultry contamination, they might have contaminated the lemons before they even arrived at the restaurant. The Gram-positive cocci and Corynebacterium isolates may have been introduced onto the lemons from the skin or oral flora of anyone who handled them, before or after they arrived in the restaurant. The Bacillus species are ubiquitous and could have had numerous sources, including airborne spores landing on the fruit or on the knife used to cut the lemon.The study also did not determine the likelihood of customers' contracting infectious diseases from restaurant-served lemon wedges, nor did it cite any examples of such an occurrence:
[T]he likelihood [of the microbes' causing infectious diseases] was not determined in this study. An extensive search of the literature yielded no reported outbreaks or illnesses attributed to lemon slices in beverages. Establishment of an infection would depend upon the number of microbes introduced; this investigation did not include a quantitative determination of the numbers of microorganisms on the lemons. Other factors that would contribute to the establishment of an infection would include whether the organisms were resistant to multiple antibiotics, the general health and age of the individual, the status of the immune system, and the integrity of the mucous membranes of the lips and mouth.What the study uncovered, basically, is a potential problem that requires more study:
Although lemons have known antimicrobial properties, the results of our study indicate that a wide variety of microorganisms may survive on the flesh and the rind of a sliced lemon. Restaurant patrons should be aware that lemon slices added to beverages may include potentially pathogenic microbes. Further investigations could determine the source of these microorganisms, establish the actual threat (if any) posed by their presence on the rim of a beverage, and develop possible means for preventing the contamination of the lemons. It could also be worthwhile to study contamination on other beverage garnishes, such as olives, limes, celery, and cherries, and to investigate whether alcoholic beverages have an effect not seen with water and soda.Last updated: 12 February 2008
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.