Lemon Slices in Your Water?

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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Lemon slices in your water. What do you think —– risky or not? According to Dr. Don Schaffner and Professor Ben Chapman, putting lemon in your water or other beverages is NOT RISKY.

These two Extension Food Safety Specialists, Schaffner with Rutgers University in New Jersey and Chapman here at NC State, have a podcast called Risky or Not. Lemon wedges in beverages have been the topic of two different episodes of the podcast. Episode #186 addresses Barehanded Lemon Slices in Drinks and Lemon Wedge in your Drink was episode # 324.

To begin these discussions, they refer to several studies that looked at microorganisms on the lemons themselves. The thoughts were that lemon skins are rough and bumpy and they may harbor bacteria or other microorganisms. Yes, they did find some pathogens on lemons. But the amounts were minimal.

This led to another discussion on the types of microorganisms found. Not all microorganisms are bad and actually, some could be beneficial. They concluded that the chance of these microorganisms being risky or transferred from the lemon to the drink was also minimal.

Their discussions then changed focus to look at the bartender or other restaurant employee that could possibly transfer an illness-causing pathogen to the lemon or to the drink. They felt a sick employee was more likely to make someone sick than the lemon itself.

According to the 2017 Food Code, lemons for beverages or garnishes are considered a “ready-to-eat” food and should be washed and prepared by someone wearing gloves.

They were concerned about a barehanded bartender. Especially if the restaurant worker had an illness, especially one that is easily spread such as hepatitis or norovirus. The code says tongs, gloves, or toothpicks should be used when touching the cut lemons. They felt that bare-hand contact with the lemon was risky and would be magnified if the bartender or server were working while sick.

Another factor that went into their NOT RISKY decision is that lemons have been used as garnishes and added to beverages for a long time. They looked at reports of people becoming ill and did not find any outbreaks related to lemons.

If this is a topic that concerns you, you’ll want to listen to both episodes of Risky or Not that discuss this topic in-depth. The podcast is free of charge. If you’d like to hear this podcast you can go to Riskyornot.co (yes that is co not com).

Each episode of the Risky or Not podcast is about 10 minutes long and there are usually three new episodes a week. In each podcast Drs. Chapman and Schaffner address one food safety topic, usually, a question that has been asked by a listener, Extension colleague or has been talked about on social media. Usually, the question is related to food, cooking, or food preservation. They look at research and the science and give their rationale for deciding if it is risky or not. If you have a specific question, you can also send it to the specialists.

If you really like this podcast, are interested in food safety, and would like to
hear more, these two professors also have a longer (usually about two
hours) podcast called Food Safety Talk. You can check it out at foodsafeytalk.com

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.