It’s likely the first thing your server will ask when you sit down for a restaurant meal: What would you like to drink? Well, there’s one incredibly popular drink that you might not want to order.
Whether you ask for it or not, a glass of water or Diet Coke usually comes with a slice of lemon. But be warned: Despite all the health benefits of lemon water, you might want to tell your server to leave the citrus out.
Why You Might Want to Skip the Lemon
A 2007 study in the Journal of Environmental Health tested 76 lemons from 21 restaurants for germs and had some pretty freaky findings. Nearly 70 percent of the lemon slices had bacteria, viruses, and other microbes—including disease-causing E. coli. Even though lemon is a natural germ-killer, it can still get contaminated itself.
Lemon wedges are way more likely to have bacteria than the food you order on a plate because restaurant health standards tend to be less strict for garnishes. An ABC investigation noticed that restaurant workers often grabbed lemons without gloves or tongs. If they didn’t scrub their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or touching another germ-ridden spot, there’s a good chance they could leave that bacteria on the lemon in your drink. Plus, restaurants might just rinse the skin instead of giving each fruit a good scrub.
What’s the Real Risk?
But before you start giving servers the death glare when you see them carrying lemon water, know that the garnish won’t necessarily make you sick. The 2007 study authors admitted there haven’t been any diseases or outbreaks linked to lemons, and that still holds true today. And microbiology expert Philip Tierno, PhD, who led the ABC investigation, says your immune system will usually protect you from getting sick from lemon water. Before sitting down at a table, watch out for these red flags you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.
“The usual course will probably result in no infection, but there is a possibility,” Dr. Tierno, clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells the Huffington Post when discussing his findings. “You can’t live in a bubble. Your immune system is usually pretty good.”
Still, if you’re concerned, just request your server bring your water or soda with no lemon. And if you can’t live without it, try squeezing in the juice then setting the wedge aside. Even though the juice has bacteria, at least you won’t have germs from the rind floating in your glass, too. Don’t skip the lemon water at home though, because drinking lemon water has incredible health benefits. Just make sure to wash it before putting it in your glass.