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Does Bacteria on Lemon Slices Endanger Diners?

Posted March 13, 2008
Updated March 14, 2008

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— A Internet video, based on a New Jersey professor's study, claims that bacteria on lemon slices served in restaurants endangers diners. A North Carolina State University professor, though, says the report's claims are overblown.

"Those lemons are spiking your drink with germs, everything from the stuff that causes staph infection to fecal bacteria," the video says.

The video's warning is based on a study conducted by Professor Anne LaGrange Loving of Passiac County Community College in New Jersey. She tested lemon slices served at restaurants and found 25 microorganisms on them, including E. coli.

"That creates a witch's brew of bacteria," the video says.

However, Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, a microbiologist with N.C. State, urges caution when considering the results of Loving's study.

"The reality is that we live in a world full of bacteria, and we all consume millions of organisms a day. And they're completely harmless," Jaykus said.

Most of types of E. coli do not make normal, healthy people sick, Jaykus said.

"I think this is much ado about nothing," she said. "And I believe I can actually speak for many of my colleagues that they believe the same.

"I think the public should not worry about lemons in whatever it is that they're drinking, whether it's iced tea or squirting it on some fish or a glass of water."

Via a telephone interview, Loving disagreed with Jaykus' opinion that the presence of bacteria on lemon slices does not create a health risk.

The Internet report sensationalized the findings of her study – which was not her intent, Loving stressed.

"It's not so much a point of alarming people," Loving said. "It's just making people aware that the lemon slice could have been handled improperly.

"And then, the bigger point: If the lemons are being handled improperly, what about the cutlery? What about this, what about that?"

Jaykus said she is concerned that such reports overshadow serious health risks.

"One thing we try to do as food-safety professionals is we don't want to be cavalier about true dangers," Jaykus said. "But at the same time, we don't want to have the public unnecessarily alarmed about something that really is not a risk.

"And that's what's happened with this incident."

The bottom line: Loving said she has stopped ordering lemons in her beverages at restaurants. Jaykus said she will continue to order them.

25 Comments

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  • HopingForABetterWorld Mar 18, 2008

    That explains my recent kidney stones...should have stayed away from the lemons. Thanks for the research data.

  • Timbo Mar 18, 2008

    silkansha, I was referring to science, not your bad habits as a waitress in a restaurant. Having worked in food service for a number of years, I am aware of how and why food may be contaminated.

    The point was that generally, unless something is properly sterilized, you will be able to culture bacteria from its surface. Hence, finding bacteria on a lemon slice is not unexpected, but expected. Therefore, my comment that the person wants to make a name for themselves by publishing in the popular media what is obvious to anyone with a brain.

  • grant Mar 17, 2008

    More distraction from the true problems, the man-made philates in plastics and frangrances and the floride in the water that was used to control the jews in concentration camps (same time it was added to our water) and is used a rat poison. Swallow the amount (pea size) that your supposed to brush your teeth with, the tube says call poison control. Its the same amount in 8 oz of water. More of the ball under the shell game.

  • Funky Neighbor LEE Mar 17, 2008

    The Tequila hurts me more then the Lemon does.

  • GWALLY Mar 17, 2008

    The cleanness and levels of bacteria in the food prep. area are 100% dependant on the staff, no one else....period, end of statement!!!! So the issue is................who is in the kitchen and how well trained are they???? (and for me, do they speak English?).......makes you want to run to McD's for lunch don't it, uuuummmmmmmmmyyyy !!!!!!!!

  • oldrebel Mar 17, 2008

    I'd worry more about the kitchen help that can't read the English hygiene guidelines that are posted.

  • Slip Kid Mar 17, 2008

    I hope my food has the 'normal' bacteria on/in it. I'd hate to think what it'd take to remove it, then think of the junk you'd be eating!

  • doodad Mar 17, 2008

    We are told to wash fruits and vegetables before we eat them to avoid unhealthy bacteria and pesticides, yet we shouldn't worry about the lemons? Try again.

  • Timetogo Mar 17, 2008

    "Clearly a "researcher" that knows little about research or the subject matter. More like a person who wants to make a name for themselves.."

    It's funny how the critic come out to play when someone tries to educate about something. Then it won't matter to you that the waiter and half the kitchen staff just played 'catch' with your bread or that one of the preparers has a stomach bug and isn't taking time to wash his hands from the many restroom breaks (guess what you'll be doing all next week), OH and the waitress just fished a roach out of your drink 'cause it was already in the glass when she poured it. Come on, they get paid less than minimum wage and you THINK they all care about what your eat?? Unless they are wearing masks, they cough, sneeze and spit (I'm sure not intentionally) when they talk over your food. I WAS A WAITRESS FOR SEVERAL YEARS! IT HAPPENS! **waiting to see my name in lights**

  • mrsvidivan2 Mar 14, 2008

    mjohan... you hit the nail on the head. To add another to the list don't inhale. That would help you to avoid the intake of harmfufl airborn bacteria.

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