Picture yourself sitting down for a meal at your favorite restaurant. You order a drink and begin looking over the menu. A glass is placed in front of you on the table, and you take a drink. In an instant you feel your mouth, tongue, gums, and throat burning. Moments later you are vomiting. You are rushed to a hospital where you remain for days. You learn that your esophagus and stomach have been torn and perforated by a chemical mixed into the drink you were served.
Sounds like a nightmare, right? Unfortunately, this scene plays out more than you know. Every year in the United States an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 people are injured by ingesting caustic chemicals.
This week an Atlantic County jury awarded $750,000 to Richard Washart who suffered severe chemical burns to his esophagus and stomach when he was served a draft beer tainted with a caustic chemical agent used to clean the draft beer lines at the McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant at Harrah’s casino.
The restaurant and a beverage company hired to clean the beer lines used a harsh chemical agent to clean the lines but failed to clear the lines of the chemicals before using them. After the beer lines were cleaned, inexpensive test strips should have been used to test the beer for any holdover chemicals. This simple, inexpensive step would have saved Mr. Washart six days in the hospital and lifelong injuries to his mouth, throat, and stomach.
What happened to Mr. Washart is not an isolated event. Others have suffered severe chemical burns from ingesting drinks at restaurants contaminated with caustic chemical agents. On March 3, 2017, two children suffered severe chemical burns to their throats and mouths after drinking apple juice containing lye at the Star Buffet near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. During an inspection of the restaurant after the incident, officials found a container of crystal lye, a highly caustic cleaning agent, near where food was being prepared.
In 2014, a Utah woman suffered chemical burns to her mouth, throat, and stomach after drinking an iced tea at a Dickey’s Barbeque Pit restaurant. The chemical, “Clean Force Fryer Cleaner,” which looks similar to sugar, was being stored improperly. A restaurant employee mixed the chemical into a sweet tea drink, thinking it was sugar. The woman was served an iced tea with the caustic and dangerous chemical compound commonly known as lye.
These injuries can cause severe burns, eating through the esophagus and causing severe bleeding and internal injuries. Some of the long-term effects include stricture and increased risk of esophageal cancer. The cost of preventing these injuries by the food and beverage industry is small. Most can be prevented through simple vigilance and the exercise of regular care.