How to Deal With Lemon Wedge Bacteria and Other Horrors..

by Brad Isaac on February 18, 2008

lemon wedge bacteriaIt started last week

At lunch, I ordered a glass of water with lemon to drink. My friend (with a disgusted look on his face) warned “don’t you know the latest news on those lemons?!”

I hadn’t heard, but I figured it was some new food scare.

According to him, a recent research experiment found that lemon wedges ordered in restaurants can contain disease causing bacteria 69% of the time.

I didn’t pay much attention…

But then, later in the week I started getting e-mails warning me of the lemon wedge bacteria. Another concerned friend pointed me toward a Youtube video adding to the gravity of the threat.

So are lemons the gastronomical equivalent to Yellow Cake Uranium? Should we avoid lemons due to the internal biological warfare that can result from ingesting them? Or is something far more insidious going on?

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

Picture this. You are lying asleep in your bed at 2a.m. when you hear some noise outside your bedroom window. You groggily make your way to the window to see what’s going on. Since it’s summertime and hot, you’ve left the window cracked to cool off the room. Big mistake.

When you reach the window, you draw back the curtains to look and see the shadow of a human standing on the other side looking in. A sweet perfume smell hits your nose as you realize the person outside the window is spraying it on you from a pipe or tube of some sort. The next thing you know, you are gripped by terrible nausea and you fall to the ground convulsing as the criminal makes his way through your window.

matton1.pngIn 1944 the citizens of Mattoon, Illinoise were held hostage by the shadowy criminal known as The Mad Gasser. Like the scenario above, there were countless reports of attacks involving an unidentified person spraying a mind altering chemical into their houses.

And – as many criminals get better at their crimes, this case was no different. The chemical compound became far more effective – sometimes paralyzing the victim, other times causing hallucinatory response and convulsions. Thereby allowing the robber to enter the house with no resistance from the occupants.

Now what does this have to do with lemon wedges? Don’t worry, I am getting to that.

But first, the story gets even more terrifying. Not only was this maniac spraying who knows what into the faces of innocent people, but one victim caught a glimpse of him before the chemicals entered the bloodstream, rendering them incapacitated. They described a man, dressed in women’s clothing and carrying what looked to be a garden chemical sprayer. Indeed, to back the claims, the police found a woman’s footprint at the scene of the crime – right outside the window where the perpetrator committed the crime. To forgo dressing in typical burglar garb, the mad gasser went out of his way to dress up like a woman before he committed these crimes – he truly was a madman!

Lemon Wedges Vs. Mad Gassers

According to the latest reports, lemon wedges pose a wider reaching risk than a mad gasser ever could. Lemons are everywhere. They aren’t just in one little town. They can be found in almost any grocery store. They are inexpensive, thus are easily accessed by children and the elderly.

But I’ve got a question. What if the study is flawed? And if not, why should we worry about bacteria on a lemon wedge anyway?

In 2005, the major bacterial cesspool was the computer keyboard on your desk. “More contaminated than a public toilet seat…” scientists were saying. The warnings were screamed from the rooftops: “You should never eat lunch at your desk, because you are ingesting all that nasty bacteria!”

And just when It looks like there’s no escape, along comes a science fair winner who finds that many restaurants who serve drinks have the same types of bacteria in the ice. What’s an innocent patron to do?

I think what’s going on here is very similar to the Mad Gasser phenomenon. You see, I left out a critical detail to the story. According to investigators and psychologists, what the Mad Gasser incident is most probably an acute case of mass hysteria. There is far more evidence leaning towards anxiety attacks, night terrors and hoax calls than there was of any chemical spraying fiend in women’s clothing.

Mass Histeria Revisited

I think it is the same with our quest to find new bacteria sources. In this “hysteria” over germs and disease, there are antibacterial soaps galore, Lysol disinfectant, germ cleaning hand gel and STILL we can’t keep the bacteria away??

Why is this so? Because bacteria is everywhere. It’s part of life. There is nothing you and I can do to stop it completely – and why should we?

As far as bacterial infestations go, I’d put a restaurant lemon wedge against anyone’s toothbrush any day of the week! Just think about that for a minute or two. Fact is, bacteria is everywhere, but the good news is, the human body is remarkably well suited for dealing with such organisms.

But here’s where the real problem comes in… What all of this doom and gloom amounts to is fear. When we fear something, our decision making becomes hampered. Put another way, how many people are ditching lemon water for a Coke or Pepsi? Still, you’d be getting the bacteria in the ice, unless you ordered it sans ice. But also, Coke, is arguably more dangerous than a bacterial laden lemon wedge anyway. The sugar in soft drinks can increase obesity and the likelihood of type II diabetes. Which is worse – a week of upset stomach or a lifetime of insulin injections?

And the other side of the problem is that while we are distressed about lemon wedges, keyboards and ice cubes, we are distracted from our real priorities. In fact, we should use these stories as challenges to our mental health. If we submit and stop taking lemons in our water and ice in our water and drinking from glasses, we are that much closer to developing the anxiety disorder of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If it were even possible (it’s not) I’d gladly trade a week of stomach virus to avoid a life altering disorder such as OCD.

In the end, bacteria is something you cannot mentally control. Your body does a pretty good job of staving it off, but there’s no way to eliminate it from your environment via cleaning. So to waste time and energy on this fear it is pretty ridiculous don’t you think?

The Cost of Fear

The fear throws us off course. We start to worry about all the other lemon wedges we’ve come into contact. But not just lemons, what about other fruit? How many times have you washed an orange or bananna before peeling it? Many of us have never done so. Yet, these still contain as much or more bacteria as a lemon wedge.

But in the end, it doesn’t really matter because this is a false alarm. It is the Mad Gasser of the 21st century. And although titillating, these bacterial scares are nothing more than a distraction from your happiness and your life.

What do you think of these bacterial claims? Am I on target – or off my rocker? Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below…

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Eric S. Mueller February 18, 2008 at 8:36 pm

I think you’re pretty much on the money, Brad. I’m much more afraid of undercooked or poorly prepared food, or a cook sneezing on my food or not properly washing hands than I am of a lemon in my water. I’ll take the lemon any day.

Neil Wilson February 19, 2008 at 6:01 am

It’s all down to individuals inability to assess and manage risk effectively. And the media play on that incessantly, and so do savvy researchers after their next pay cheque (aka research grant).

Jen, writer February 19, 2008 at 8:08 am

You have a pretty calm and practical outlook on life. Unfortunately, not everyone is the same way. People who study Science– biology to be more exact– are more prone to paranoia. I know someone who took such a course in college and ended up always rubbing her hands with alcohol. Kinda like Monk, the television show. Since they study bacterias and diseases a lot, they tend to know what’s crawling out there. Meanwhile, the rest of us don’t really care too much.

Brad Isaac February 19, 2008 at 8:26 am

Jen, I think we can use these “paranoia” outbreaks as opportunities to challenge the reflexive response to do something. In other words, even scientists who study bacteria can “feel the fear” of getting lemon with their water and do it anyway. It may not prevent OCD in such individuals, but certainly will challenge it.

orest February 21, 2008 at 10:46 am

If you really want to be paranoid, closely observe all those little snot monsters
conspiring to eliminate all of us breeders and bearers so that they may one day take over the world. What a system of mass destruction – children and bacteria!

Sandra February 21, 2008 at 9:00 pm

The major problem with these reports is that they eventually “innoculate” us to realizing real dangers. We spend so much time worrying about what COULD happen, that we don’t even notice what IS happening around us.

Brad Isaac February 21, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Orest, got a few little ones running around eh?

Rustie February 22, 2008 at 1:45 am

Health-wise, exposure to all those little germs helps our immune systems build up defenses. No exposure–no defense. We would probably be more sickly.

And if we could actually eliminate all the bacteria that surround us in the environment, we and all the rest of the world’s living creatures would not survive. Those tiny guys begin the food chains for us by making food available for other tiny guys who are meals for a little bit bigger guys, etc.

Philosophically, I agree with those who point out that all these fear stories just keep us from facing the real things that we need to deal with. That’s probably why so many people jump right on them. It’s a great excuse!

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