Dead bat in your salad? How to report food problems at a restaurant or grocery store

Dead bat in your salad? How to report food problems at a restaurant or grocery store

Horrifying food urban legends abound about, say, the woman who found a human finger in her Wendy's chili — or the kid who bit into an apple loaded with razor blades. While many of these stories are myths, manufacturers sometimes do  miss unfortunate "added ingredients" in food, resulting in not only a massive gross-out factor, but diminished consumer trust.

The finger in the chili story was actually a hoax — one which still cost Wendy's $2.5 million in reported sales losses. But other stories are true: like one individual who thought a odd-shaped "piece of candy" in his Kohl's ice cream was just a treat, only to find it was a human finger (the person then refused to return the finger to its rightful owner, claiming it was evidence for litigation).

Recently, salad company Fresh Express recalled packaged Organic Marketside Spring Mix sold at Walmart stores across the Southeastern United States because not one, but two people found a dead bat inside. A recall was issued and the Centers for Disease Control tested the animal for rabies, but are unsure whether the corpse has the disease due to its "deteriorated condition."

Ew. It is obviously upsetting to find any foreign objects in your food, but what, exactly should you do about it if you are unlucky enough to encounter this harrowing experience? And how do you document evidence that will help you get your money back? Here's a survival guide.

Carefully inspect your food before consuming it

This applies to any situation, as foreign objects may be found in grocery and restaurant foods alike. Examine packaging for any odd appearances, smells, discoloration or shapes, the FDA recommends, as well as expiration dates. Also, make sure packaged food is sealed: Avoid torn, open or damaged items. 

Never purchase cans that are bulging, leaking or items that look as though they were frozen, thawed and then refrozen. Basically: If the food looks or smells weird, don't eat it. 

Contact the store or restaurant manager — or the cops

The moment you find a foreign object in your food, contact the store or restaurant manager. Don't keep eating. Call your local police department if, for whatever reason, you suspect your food was intentionally tampered with.

When conveying the incident to any authority, provide detailed information including the name and location of where and what you ate and the date you consumed the food, along with your name, phone number and address. And keep your smartphone handy, as photographs could help your case later, both with the authorities and with the company as you demand a refund.

Not sure whom to call or email? Here is a map directing you to contact information of local and state officials that might be able to help.

Connect with the Food and Drug Administration

Any foreign object, regardless of whether it is animal or human, may pose a hazard to your health — so call the FDA to report the incident, as FoodSafety.gov advises.

For all food that is not meat, poultry or eggs, contact the FDA's main emergency number: 866-300-4374; the FDA's meat, poultry and egg hotline can be reached at 888-674-6854.

If the problem occurs at a restaurant, you should also notify your state health department. A list of state departments can be found here.

And for pet food contamination, the FDA suggests contacting your state's consumer complaint coordinator.

If you feel sick after eating food...

Beyond just the normal gag reflex of finding something gross in your food, report any true illness to your regional department of health and human services. Include vital information such as where you purchased the food and when it was consumed. Also report your symptoms, including onset, who else ate the food and if you sought medical treatment. Photos, again, could help.

The CDC is currently involved with the bat-in-the-salad case because of the rabies threat. That's a reminder to err on the side of caution as you decide whether or not to alert the CDC.

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