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Lemon Wedges And Bacteria

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 5, 2008

When we ran WGA’s Primal Scream… And Dirty Glasses, we reported on an undercover report in Atlanta showing hotels that were systematically leaving unsanitized glassware in rooms, thus exposing guests to harmful bacteria.

Now there is a video floating around the Internet that finds when restaurants put a lemon wedge in your iced tea or soda, they are often putting in bacteria that could cause an illness.

The risk seems pretty slight but, still, this kind of information won’t help consumption any. The bacteria seems to have two basic sources. Either it was on the rind to begin with or it was added at the restaurant while slicing or just by picking up the slice and putting it in the drink.

The bacteria on the rind reminds us a bit of the piece we wrote about the efforts of the watermelon industry to enhance food safety. Watermelons, like lemons, are pretty safe — the problem is typically on the exterior. With watermelon, you really would like people to clean the rind before they cut into the watermelon. Lemons have the same issue — maybe more so, because the lemon is typically dropped into the drink, whereas the watermelon rind rarely comes in contact with food.

We questioned many of the efforts of the National Restaurant Association to get involved in horticultural standards. We suspect they have problems enough working to make sure everyone who works in a restaurant is ServSafe-certified.

We found the system that Cheesecake Factory had of tying manager bonuses into performance on food safety audits seemed most likely to produce results.

One other thought: If the lemon wedge was perfectly sanitary when it was delivered to the table, but the customer picks it up to squeeze it into his tea — wonder how clean are the hands of the typical consumer? There would probably be plenty of bacteria just from that.

You can take a look at the video below.

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