You Should Think Twice Before Putting Ice and Lemon Wedges in Your Drinks

Ahhh, ice water with lemon: the picture of supreme refreshment. Sorry to leave a bad taste in your mouth, but you may want to rethink that notion. While it may quench your thirst, this combo could also leave you sick.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Don't Drink the Water

Turns out, the lemons you get in restaurants to spruce up your water, iced tea, or pop are just yellow amalgamations of gnarly funk. Okay, that's a bit dramatic, but the bottom line is the same. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health, you're probably drinking more than you bargained for when a wedge of lemon slips into your beverage.

The researchers swabbed the rinds and flesh of 76 lemons from 21 restaurants during 43 visits and found that 70 percent of them produced microbial growth. "Although lemons have known antimicrobial properties, the results of our study indicate that a wide variety of microorganisms may survive on the flesh and the rind of a sliced lemon," the authors wrote in their report. "Restaurant patrons should be aware that lemon slices added to beverages may include potentially pathogenic microbes."

The researchers speculate that the contamination may have come from the restaurant employee or raw meat or poultry contamination, among other sources. But preparing a lemony drink yourself may not be much better. Lemon wedges in a dish invite the bacteria from your and others' grabby hands, pick up gross stuff from the slicer and/or their cutting board, and may get a little weird from sitting out in room-temperature air when they should be kept in a cool place. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Food Science found that lemons inoculated with E. coli saw the bacteria increase in population over five times when held at room temperature from four to 24 hours.

Before you freak out, tainted lemons probably won't end you. "The usual course will probably result in no infection, but there is a possibility," Philip Tierno, Ph.D., a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told the Huffington Post. "You can't live in a bubble. Your immune system is usually pretty good." Here's a hint, lemon lovers: Squeeze the juice into your drink instead of dropping the whole wedge in; this could reduce exposure.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Lemons are lavish, but ice is mandatory for a refreshing sip. Welp, more bad news, folks: Ice contamination is no joke. The 2017 study we mentioned above dips into the ice scenario too, and the results are not very cool (pun intended).

This study found that when hands were contaminated with E. coli, the bacteria were transferred to ice 100 percent of the time. One hundred percent. But if you think that an ice scoop will eliminate the problem, you're wrong. Incredibly, up to 67 percent of bacteria were transferred to ice from hands, and 83 percent from scoops. Again, the contamination from ice, like lemons, probably isn't going to send you to the hospital. But better safe than sorry, you know?

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For more on food safety, check out "Eat, Drink, and Be Wary: How Unsafe Is Our Food?" by Charles M. Duncan. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto November 5, 2017

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