The lemon wedge in your drink has a bad reputation, and the evidence for it seems obvious: No one at a restaurant washes the outside of a lemon, but then they throw that wedge onto your glass, sometimes letting the rind soak right in the drink. And according to HuffPost, several studies found all kinds of germs on lemon wedges from bars and restaurants.
So should your drink order always include “No lemon, please”?
Only if you’re really worried, microbiologist Philip Tierno told HuffPost. These studies also found germs on everything else in restaurants, including the menus, the condiment bottles, and the tables. So skipping the lemon isn’t an especially effective way to avoid getting sick.
Of course, there’s still the ick factor. So I asked a few friends with food service experience whether they have seen “gross” garnishes that don’t belong in a drink.
Several agreed that the cut fruit is often left out overnight. “Fruit is expensive, so many won’t throw away the unused cut citrus at the end of the night, just store it in the fridge until morning,” said Derrick Winger. “The trays they sit in don’t get cleaned very often, which can lead to an interesting combo of juices sitting in the bottom.” He recommends tipping well and asking the bartender for a fresh-cut wedge.
Portland bartender (and Lifehacker contributor) Daniel Casto says that staff can be careless with the fruit, and not just at dive bars:
If lemons have been cut on say, a Monday, refrigerated overnight, and put to use the next day, it’s on the bar staff to remember to flip the container before adding fresh (Tuesday) lemons to the Monday pile. Ideally, you don’t combine dates; but when you do, you gotta make sure the older stuff goes out first.
Lemons also get dirty when the bartender touches them with bare hands, but as Casto points out, pretty much every time you eat out, someone has touched your food with their hands.
And if you’re rude, some of those dirty lemons are your fault, says Casto:
Frankly, the dirtiest I see lemons get is from clueless customers reaching for their own garnishes out of my station. This happens all too frequently, and these people should be put in stocks in the town square.