An Indianapolis police officer took a sip of McDonald’s iced tea last weekend and wound up in the hospital because the drink apparently was contaminated with cleaning chemicals.
Reserve Officer Paul Watkins went to the McDonald’s at around 10 p.m. Saturday night for a self-serve tea before his shift, his wife Jerilyn Watkins said, adding that she wasn’t with him at the time and his lawyer advised him not to speak to the media.
He filled his cup halfway with unsweetened tea and went to fill the rest with sweetened tea when he noticed it looked dark, she said. He took the lid off the dispenser to take a look and determined it was OK.
“He filled his cup and took a big gulp and immediately his throat started burning down into his chest,” Jerilyn Watkins said, adding that he called her from the car and told him he felt as though he’d just drank “bleach.”
The owner of the McDonald’s where Watkins was served, Elizabeth Henry, issued the following statement: “Serving my customers safe, high quality food and beverages is a top priority at our restaurants. We take this claim very seriously and are looking into the matter.”
Emails to McDonald’s corporate communications office seeking additional comment were not returned.
Watkins immediately spit out the tea and told the girl behind the counter that there was something wrong, Jerilyn Watkins said. The manager then told him the employees had put a cleaning solution into the tea dispenser and they had forgotten to put a cup over the nozzle, Jerilyn Watkins said.
“The irony of this all was that manager asked Paul if he wanted another cup or glass of tea and told one of the employees, ‘Hey, get this guy another tea,’” Paul Watkins’s lawyer, Sam Jacobs said. “Paul said ‘No, thanks’ and left. By time he got not very far in his police car, he became violently ill.”
He called the police station and poison control, which determined that the tea dispenser was filled with a “heavy duty degreaser” chemical, according to the police report. Watkins spent the night at IU Health Methodist Hospital, according to the report. He underwent endoscopy the following day, Jacobs said.
Watkins has returned to his daily life, but he still has problems swallowing and experiences burning in his throat, Jacobs said. He’s also concerned about the long-term effects of ingesting the chemicals.
“My husband has never drank, never smoked, never done drugs,” Jerilyn Watkins said. “This is just insane.”
A similar scenario involving a teen in Muncie, Indiana, was reported at a McDonald’s in 2013, and a lawsuit was filed in January. McDonald’s lawyers in the case have until March 31 to respond, according to court records.
In Utah last summer, a woman said she unintentionally ingested lye by drinking contaminated tea through a straw at Dickey’s Barbeque Pit, but she did not file suit.
Dickey’s said in a statement the worker who made the tea no longer works at the company.
“The entire Dickey’s family is saddened by the events that occurred in Utah and takes this incident very seriously,” the restaurant chain said in a statement. “There is nothing more important to us than the trust and safety of our guests.”
Jacobs said he has not yet filed a lawsuit on Watkins’s behalf and hopes he is able to work out something with McDonald’s before doing so.
“He never wants this to happen to anybody else,” Jacobs said.
Trust and safety. Most of us don’t consciously think of those two words when we walk into any kind of restaurant. But those words are inherent in our actions. We’re eating their food, so we must trust them and believe that our safety is their priority. Ingesting cleaning fluid isn’t what we’re expecting when walking into a McDonald’s.
FoodFacts.com does understand that mistakes can happen. The world isn’t a perfect place and there are no perfect people. But some mistakes are more costly than others. It becomes important for us to really take note of anything unusual going on with food or beverages that we’ve ordered in any establishment. The results of incidents like this could be far more detrimental than what we’re seeing here … and this wasn’t small.
Let’s take note of what we’re about to eat and drink. Maybe the color could be off. Perhaps the smell isn’t what you’re expecting. If you notice something you aren’t expecting, don’t consume it. While no restaurant is trying to hurt anyone on purpose, we can become unwitting victims if we don’t observe and inspect our food and drink before we consume.