Lemons, A Bacterial Reservoir?

Courtney Golden (11 AM Micro) found an article on Science Daily, which might stop you from eating your vegetables, or from drinking fresh lemonade. So not only do you have to wash your hands, you have to wash your lemons too. Here’s Courtney’s story:

They say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Well you might just want to think twice about that lemon, especially when you’re out to eat at your favorite restaurant. Although iced tea with lemon, water with lemon, or even diet with lemon are very popular refreshing beverages when you go out to eat, the lemon could be spiking your drink with many bacteria and microorganisms. According to Jonathan Leff and Noah Fierer at the University of Colorado, Boulder, many different fruits and veggies that are often consumed raw, such as spinach, lemons, tomatoes, and others contain similar surface bacteria. These fruits and vegetables may have varying surface bacteria due to farm locations, storage conditions, and transportation conditions, but overall, similarities occur. The bacteria located on the surface of fruits and vegetables are not known to cause disease, but can be the source of typical microbes on kitchen surfaces. These bacteria are not the problem, the lemons sitting in your drinks, may have been exposed to more serious bacteria, which could eventually make you sick. ABC News reports a story concluding that fecal matter and E. coli were found on the surfaces of the lemons. Good Morning America tested lemons from six popular family restaurants. Although yeast and surface bacteria that are typically found on fruits and vegetables were cultured, four of the six samples contained fecal matter and E. coli. It was also found that the workers in the restaurants were not wearing gloves nor using tongs when handling the lemons to garnish the drinks or food. Director of Clinical Microbiology at NYU, Phillip Tierno stated that “A small risk, but a risk nevertheless by ingesting byproducts of these lemons.” Tierno also reports that, “I see that people have no concern of where they put their fingers, they’ll take things with their bare hands rather than gloving up and distributing the food stuff as they should.” Although Leff and Fierer report that the surface bacteria on fruits and vegetables can inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria, the lemons drowning in E. coli and other bacteria would not be out-competed by the normal flora on lemons.

Anne LaGrange Loving, an Assistant Professor of Science at Passaic County Community College also studied the contaminants on lemons. Loving collected 76 lemon samples from 21 different restaurants and found 69.7% of the lemons contained 25 different bacteria and yeasts. E. coli, family members of Enterobacteriacea, and other non-fermentative gram-negative bacteria were still found on the lemons even though their source is unknown. ABC News states that ways to protect you from getting sick are simply squeezing the juice of the lemon into the beverage instead of mixing the hide of the lemon into the beverage that is being consumed. On the restaurant’s side, gloves and tongs should be used avidly and more frequently. Like we have talked about in class, it can only take a certain special circumstance to infect a person with bacteria, especially with a gram-negative bacterial infection, which is worse due to the growing resistance to treatment from these bacteria. Anyway, who wants to drink bacteria infested lemon water? Not me.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 15, 2013, in gross, Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I shared this with my sister who has this strange obsession with eating the lemons they provide for our drinks at restaurants and she still isn’t talking to me. I mean she deserved to know because I really don’t want her eating E. coli infested lemons and anything to stop her from embarassing me in public. I usually squeeze the lemon juice into my water and then put it into my glass, but I think from now on I’m going to hold off on lemon flavored water.

  2. All people need to do is to wash their fruits and vegetables before dunking them in drinking water.

  3. actually I have a question. What about store-bought lemons? should we be washing them before squeezing their juice into water or tea?

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