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The Gross Things Found in Food Scam
Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle exposed the dark secrets of the meat-packing industry. Readers were shocked to learn that the sausages they bought at stores often contained undesirable ingredients such as rats, human fingers, and garbage shoveled off the floor. The public outcry the book provoked indirectly led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the food industry. However, the public is still sensitive about the idea of unpleasant foreign objects ending up in commercially prepared food.

Such public sensitivity has created an opportunity for scam artists. The scam is to pretend to find something gross lurking in food served at a restaurant (or in commercially prepared food in general), and then to demand monetary damages from the company that prepared the meal. This scam is given plausibility by the fact that restaurant patrons and supermarket shoppers occasionally legitimately do find unsavory items in their food. The gross things most often found by hoaxers are rodents, human body parts, and condoms.
The Finger in Wendy’s Chili Hoax, 2005
In March 2005, Anna Ayala claimed that she found a human finger in a bowl of chili ordered from a Wendy's restaurant in California. Her allegation received huge amounts of media attention and cost Wendy's over $1 million a day in lost sales. The company offered a $100,000 reward for any information about how the finger got into the chili. A police investigation eventually determined that the finger hadn't actually been cooked in the chili and had originally been attached to the hand of a man who worked with Ayala's husband at an asphalt company. Ayala and her husband subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to file a false claim. [wikipedia]
Fried Baby Foot, 2004
In July 2004, a Durham, North Carolina family found what appeared to be a breaded, fried baby foot in a box of Banquet-brand chicken pieces bought at a local supermarket. But in this case, the family weren't pulling a scam. They legitimately found the object in the food. But thankfully, it wasn't a baby foot. The police identified the object as a piece of dough that a prankster at the Batesville chicken processing plant had carefully shaped to resemble a foot. Even toes and toenails had been sculpted. Then the faux foot had been breaded and fried. ConAgra, owner of the plant, said it had taken action to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.
Soup Mouse, 2004
Carla Patterson and her son were eating at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in May 2004 when she claimed to find a dead mouse in her bowl of vegetable soup. She immediately began screaming, prompting many of the other restaurant patrons to leave. While it investigated the incident, Cracker Barrel stopped serving vegetable soup at all 497 of its restaurants nationwide. But police found that the mouse had died from a skull fracture, not from drowning in soup, and concluded that Patterson had placed the mouse in the soup herself in an attempt to extort money from the restaurant. She was sentenced to a year in jail. More…
The Coors Mouse, 1988
Florida resident James Harvey claimed that while drinking a can of Coors beer he "felt something against my mouth." He peered inside the can and saw feet and a tail. There was a dead mouse in his beer. Coors offered him $1500 if he would allow them to examine the rodent. Harvey refused, seeking $35,000 instead. But when health officials examined the mouse, they concluded it had died only a week before, although the beer had been canned three months prior. Also, the mouse had abrasions on its side, from being shoved into the can. Harvey was sentenced to 18 months in a work-release program for extortion and tampering. [FOAFtale News, June 1989]
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.