How many times have you said or have heard the statement “Alcohol kills everything”.
Remember a couple of years ago when investigations into the cleanliness of lemons used as drink garnishes made front-page news and seemingly every TV news show in the country covered the disgusting facts. Everyone was up in latex-glove-covered arms over the bacteria found on the lemons, leaving many people, even today, refusing a lemon as a garnish. However, it’s not just lemons that can cause such a furor. Yes, lemons need to be washed thoroughly and not handled with unclean hands before used as a garnish, but they’re not the only items that can spread foodborne illness from behind the bar.
There are a lot of foodborne illnesses that can be transferred through employees’ hands alone — E. coli, norovirus, even Hepatitis. Any garnish handled by a bartender not using gloves, tongs, or toothpicks can be contaminated by bartenders hands. Remember that same bartender is handling money, credit cards and taking the bottle opener out of their dirty pants pocket with their bare hands. In fact, a recent study showed one in 10 bank cards were found to be contaminated with fecal matter. (Uh, gross!) Also researchers swabbed $1 bills to see what was living on paper currency. They found hundreds of species of microorganisms. The most abundant were ones that cause acne, as well as plenty of harmless skin bacteria. They also identified vaginal bacteria, microbes from mouths, DNA from pets and viruses.
But can alcohol kill such pathogens as bacteria and viruses??
Alcohol does not destroy bacterial spores!!!!
Bacterial spores—which can cause anything from food poisoning to anthrax. Bacterial spores also form when food is temperature abused so garnishes such as melons should be held under 41 degrees F.
Some good news, per the CDC, “Ethyl alcohol…is a potent virucidal agent inactivating all of the lipophilic viruses (e.g., herpes, vaccinia, and influenza virus) and many hydrophilic viruses (e.g., adenovirus, enterovirus, rhinovirus, and rotaviruses but not hepatitis A virus.
So no, you’re not safe against polio, but ethyl alcohol kills a bunch of terrifying viruses, right?
Yes, but—here’s the big caveat—only at concentrations over 60 to 80%, anywhere from 50 to 75% above most of the stuff we drink socially. Meaning if you are not drinking a cask strength whiskey (which usually clocks in at around 60 to 65%), you may wanna pass on the glass with garnishes.
Other Helpful Tips
When a cup is used to scoop ice the exterior of the cup which is handled by hands contaminates the ice.
Jasmine Davenport-Murray REHS
CEO ARF Food Safety Consulting Group