Is the citrus fruit in your drink hiding a dirty little secret? - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Is the citrus fruit in your drink hiding a dirty little secret?

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

Researchers at the University of Arizona say there's a secret in the citrus...and it's one you might find hard to swallow.
The dirty little secret was found in a little green fruit that adds quite a punch to dishes and drinks.

It's all over the news...contaminated peanut products. Last year it was jalapenos hot with germs. And you might have heard the story about dirty lemons that soured a lot of people on adding them to their restaurant drinks.

But have you heard about limes? 

"Here's e. coli we got off a lime, and the concern here is that e. coli usually originates from fecal matter," said microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba. "What we did find is actually in about a third of the samples: we found fecal bacteria."

Gerba has a nose for germs. But fecal matter on lime rinds? Where did those limes come from?

"We collected limes from a number of restaurants and bars to look at what kinds of bacteria are on the surfaces of them," he said.

There are several ways the germs may have made their way onto the limes, including that old germ transfer station...the cutting board.

"So you get the fecal bacteria transfer from any raw meat products onto the limes," Gerba said. "Or people may not wash their hands thoroughly. Or a lot of times, the rags and dish cloths people use in restaurants and bars have fecal bacteria growing on them. "

And some of our favorite beers aren't ready until a lime wedge is stuffed into the bottle. But Gerba says his experiment actually lets a lot of bars off the hook. "All of the ones we found were actually in restaurants. I thought for sure they would be from bars."

"You know you're not making meat and other products where you can get cross-contamination on the cutting board. That may be why we only found the fecal bacteria on limes in restaurants," he said. "Inside are anti-microbial compounds in lime juice, so that's not much of a worry."

It's hard not to get a reaction from people on the street, but it's not easy to change old habits.

"Yeah. I really think it's a gross matter, but I also think there are worse things," said restaurant customer Breanna Lamka. "You know...salmonella, I think. I'm terrified of things like that."

And what about getting sick?

"I think it's largely when you're dealing with small children handling, or maybe immuno-compromised individuals - then you worry a little bit more," said Gerba. "I think the incidence is low. I think it's more of a disgust thing."

Here's something else to consider: Researchers say restaurants are usually more careful about cross-contamination than are people in their own kitchens. So, the odds of getting infections from foods are greater in homes than in restaurants.


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