On Monday, the Huffington Post published a piece cautioning diners on putting lemon wedges in their water glasses. Titled “This Will Make You Never, Ever Want To Put A Lemon Wedge In Your Water Again”, the article quotes a research study from the Journal of Environmental Health, where researchers swabbed the outside of fresh lemons and found 70% of them produced microbial growth. The samples were collected as soon as a beverage was served, before drinking or touching, thus reducing possible contamination from other sources. The article then goes into excruciating detail about the types of contamination and some of the bacteria and fungi isolated from the rind of lemon wedges.
The article is clearly written to produce the “wow” scare factor that will capture headlines and the attention of viewers. The problem? Somewhere near the end of the article, the authors speak with an expert from NYU Medical Center who notes that the risk of actually getting sick is “decidedly small.” According to the expert, “you can’t live in a bubble. Your immune system is usually pretty good.”
This article is everything I hate about how ridiculously germ phobic we’ve become as a nation. As the article states, the likelihood of getting sick from a slice of lemon is essentially negligible. Of course, they bury that lead in order to feed into the culture of germophobic fear mongering that is pervasive in this country. Our parents’ generation was constantly dirty as children, rolling around in dirt, mud, dust, etc. They weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and most of them did just fine.
The real problem with the article is that they hardly highlight the fact that the reason the lemons are likely contaminated is because of unsanitary food handling practices – poor practices that also likely occurred during the preparation of meals. Meals that will ultimately contain a much higher bacterial load and therefore much more likely to make you sick. The greater public health disaster then is not the tiny amount of bacteria on your lemon wedge, but the mountain of bacterial that likely contaminated the side salad that came with your entree. So you can probably continue to enjoy the lemon slice (as the article points out, just squeeze the juice into your drink and don’t drop the rind in if you’re really that worried), because you may actually want to think twice about your actual meal.