SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah woman who nearly died after unknowingly drinking iced tea mixed with chemicals spoke publicly for the first time today, describing the incident that she hopes is a wake-up call for restaurants.
“It was a fire that was just, it was just all-consuming in my mouth,” Jan Harding, 67, told reporters this afternoon.
Harding spent almost two weeks in a Salt Lake City hospital after drinking a single sip of sweetened iced tea on Aug. 10 at Dickey’s Barbecue in South Jordan, a Salt Lake City suburb.
An industrial cleaning solution mixed into the tea caused deep, ulcerated burns in Harding’s esophagus.
She spit out the tea and tried to rinse her mouth with water as she was taken to a hospital, but Harding said the rinsing and spitting hurt too bad.
Authorities have said a restaurant employee unintentionally put the heavy-duty cleaner lye in a sugar bag, and another worker mistakenly mixed it into the iced-tea dispenser. Lye, which looks like sugar, is an odorless chemical used for degreasing deep fryers.
Harding was the first one to drink from the chemically laced batch of tea, and no one else was harmed.
Salt Lake County prosecutors are reviewing a police investigation and have not announced if charges will be filed. A decision could come next week, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.
Harding’s family has not said whether it will file a lawsuit.
Her husband, Jim Harding, said they are focusing on her recovery.
The Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. has said the incident was isolated and unprecedented in the chain’s 73-year history.
Harding’s attorney Paxton Guymon said he’s discovered another lye incident at the South Jordan restaurant in July. An employee at the South Jordan restaurant burned herself when she stuck her finger in a sugar container and licked it to test for the chemical cleaner, he said.
The employee’s tongue began bleeding and blistering. She quit on Aug. 9, the day before Harding was burned, Guymon said.
Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants has not commented on the new allegations.
Jan Harding said today that doctors say she must undergo additional tests before they can determine what long-term complications she could face.
“I don’t feel quite myself yet. I still have, you know, some difficulties inside,” she said gesturing to her throat.
Harding said she hopes the incident forces restaurants to change how they train employees and store and label chemicals, perhaps by adding colored dye to dangerous chemicals.
Harding said she’s not mad at the people in the restaurant, but it will be a while before she goes out to eat again.