Saturday, March 26, 2005

OH MY ......I don't think I will be ordering any chili anytime soon!!

Wendy's Sales Drop After Woman Finds Finger in Food

COLUMBUS, Ohio (March 26) - Sales have dropped sharply at Wendy's fast food restaurants in the area of northern California where a woman claimed she found part of a finger in a bowl of chili, a company spokesman said Friday.
A portion of a human finger that a woman says she found while eating a bowl of chili at Wendys Restaurant in San Jose, Calif.
Franchise owners have informed the company's corporate headquarters in the Columbus suburb of Dublin that business is down, said Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's International Inc. He said he could not release specific sales figures because Wendy's does not own those restaurants.
"It is an isolated incident. However, it is dramatically affecting sales in that market," Lynch said.
Authorities in San Jose, Calif., planned to search a fingerprint database on Friday to try to determine who lost the partial finger that a woman said was in the chili she was eating Tuesday night.
Capt. Bob Dixon of the Santa Clara County coroner's office said he did not know when their fingerprint expert might have a match. "Nobody's claimed it yet," he said.
Dixon said it was impossible to tell so far whether the finger was cooked along with the main batch of chili or was somehow dropped into the serving cup afterward.
Anna Ayala, the 39-year old Las Vegas woman who bit into the finger, said she is still nauseous and sleepless over the incident.
"That is very sick, sick, sick," Ayala told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's disgusting. You're playing with the human race."
Ayala said she still flinches at the memory of the incident, which occurred when she stopped for a meal while preparing to drop off her in-laws after a trip to Mexico.
"It's a taste I have never tasted in my whole life," she said.
Peter Oakes, a restaurant analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. in New York, said he doesn't expect Wendy's business to suffer long term. The hamburger chain serves about 6 million meals a day across the country and has a "national reputation for both quality and cleanliness," he said.
"To me the yard stick here is whether the single incident prompts the consumer to lose confidence in the brand. It's understandable to see some kind of knee-jerk reaction," Oakes said.
The financial markets were closed Friday. Wendy's shares rose 43 cents, or 1.1 percent, on Thursday to close at $39.43 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have traded between $31.74 to $42.12 the past year.
The county's environmental health department was seeking permission from state and federal food and drug regulators to contact Wendy's suppliers, which are located outside Santa Clara County.
The chili ingredients will be traced back to their manufactures to determine whether the finger came from "a can of kidney beans or can of tomato sauce or something else," said director Ben Gale, who estimated it could take several weeks to hear back from all the companies.
San Jose police have not been asked to investigate, spokesman Sgt. Nick Muyo said.
Suppliers of Wendy's chili ingredients have not reported any finger-related incidents to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and all restaurant employees had all 10 of their fingers, Lynch said.
Wendy's is confident the finger did not come from one of its suppliers because of product coding that allows the company to trace where a product comes from, the day it was produced, when it was shipped and when it arrived at the restaurant, Lynch said.
"If an incident like this occurs, it's relatively easy to trace it back to its source," Lynch said. "And that's why we were able to verify in a short period of time that our suppliers had no accidents."
However, he acknowledged the process was "not absolutely 100 percent perfect."
Matt Baun, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was doubtful a person working at a federal beef producer would have lost the finger in an accident.
"The production line would have stopped, there would have been immediate need for medical attention and the meat products would be destroyed and not used for food," he said.
Health officials said the fingertip was about an inch-and-a-half long. They believe it belongs to a woman because of the long, manicured nail.
The woman, who asked officials not to identify her, bit down on the finger before spitting it out, said Joy Alexiou, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Health Department.
A Louisville, Ky., lawyer who has handled similar cases said he doesn't expect Wendy's image to take much of a hit.
Bo Bolus, who has represented plaintiffs over foreign objects found in McDonald's food and defended insurance companies against those claims, said consumers tend to realize that incidents like the one at Wendy's are accidents.
"I haven't found any big institutional problems in the fast-food chains," Bolus said. "I still go to McDonald's with my four boys."
03/25/05 23:52 EST
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