Restaurant lemons filled with bacteria

Monday, February 25th 2008, 7:57 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

The group tested lemons served in restaurants and found they're loaded with bacteria.

We decided to check lemons in Oklahoma City restaurants. We collected 20 lemons from 12 restaurants in the metro for our test.

We took the lemons to Quantem Laboratories to run some tests and see what's really lurking on the surface.

Todd Jelinek is the brains behind this experiment.

"Never tested lemons, have heard different properties about lemons, different studies done, but never tested them myself," Jelinek said.

Todd sanitized himself before he entered the sterile test zone. Then one at a time, he swabbed the lemons to collect all of the bacteria on the flesh and on the peel.

Todd also cleaned off a lemon we bought at the grocery store and sliced out a sample piece.  That way, we can tell what bacteria normally occur on lemons.

Todd tucked our lemons away in an incubator. We waited for 48 hours, and then it was time for the results, which may make you pucker up.

"I was kinda surprised we found as much as we did on some of these," Jelinek said.

All 20 lemon slices from the restaurants have bacteria on them. Some were worse than others. Thousands of colonies of bacteria cover four slices. Hundreds of bacteria are on six slices, and the rest have around 30 or less.

"After you see something like this, it may make some people wonder, should I really put my lemon in my water or not," Jelinek said.

Jelinek did not expect so much to grow because he said lemons naturally kill bacteria. That explains why our clean lemon from the grocery store was bacteria free.

"We showed that we got no colonies and that's after swabbing the flesh and the rind and we got no coliforms present.

Marla Sweaney from the Oklahoma City County Health Department suggests restaurants need to rinse and scrub the lemons, use clean knives to cut them in a separate area, and wear gloves or grab tongs to serve them. 

"You can always ask questions of the server, how did you wash this and if they seem to not know, call us," Sweaney said.

Because all 20 lemon slices we picked up came back contaminated, we decided not to single out any of the restaurants.