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When life gave Chipotle lemons, it put them behind the counter

By Alison Griswold

No, really.

Chipotle is making a variety of efforts to improve food cleanliness and safety after sales-crushing problems with E. coli and norovirus last quarter. Apparently as part of that, the company seems to have moved the lemon slices it once kept out for food and drinks behind the counter. The Street’s Brian Sozzi tweeted a photo of a sign in one location reading, “Don’t be sour: We still have lemons, they’re just behind the counter now. Please ask if you need one.” Reddit users also noticed that the lemons have gone missing.

Chipotle didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the state of its lemons, so we rallied the troops at Quartz to investigate. Our cursory search confirmed that self-serve lemons were not available at Chipotles in Manhattan; Central Los Angeles; Lakewood, Texas; and Tyler, Texas. At the Chipotle in Lakewood, a Quartz reporter encountered another “don’t be sour” sign. Several of us were also told by Chipotle staffers that restaurants are no longer allowed to keep lemons out, and were then given a lemon wedge in a small plastic cup.

Quartz / Ana Campoy
Quartz / David Yanofsky

As might be expected, some people on the Internet are upset. To quote one Twitter user, “chipotle giveth the lemon slices … and then taketh away.”

Ok, maybe it’s a little less convenient, but when it comes to food safety, restricting access to lemons is also pretty reasonable. Several studies have found that the lemon slices restaurants put in water can carry significant amounts of bacteria. In theory, that’s due to workers who don’t wash their hands properly before grabbing one for your cup. So you can only imagine how gross the bin of lemons that Chipotle used to leave out for anyone to stick their grubby fingers into probably got.

The photograph above was taken by 16:9clue and shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. It has been cropped.