Police in South Carolina say that a McDonald’s worker spit in two customers’ cupsof iced tea after they returned them because they weren’t sweet enough. A video shows the employee,19-year-old Marvin Washington Jr., leaning over the open cups before giving them back. The fast food chain patrons claim they discovered phlegm in the drinks when they removed their tops. He was arrested Wednesday and charged with malicious tampering with food.
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Eating out can be an exercise in suspended disbelief. Wide eyed, we assume the food is fresh and wholesome and that workers have followed the “employees must wash hands” decree posted in the bathroom. Nevertheless, the McDonald’s incident is so sickening because it actually bears out the urban legend that a disdainful waiter can and will contaminate your food if you tick him off.
Chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain’s bestseller, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, exposed the grungy side of the culinary world over a decade ago. Not only is the book a rollicking memoir about coming of age in the 1970s and 80s, it’s a veritable primer for how not to get food poisoning on date night. Bourdain rudely threw open the kitchen doors and exposed restaurants’ dirty little tricks such as filtering cigarette ash out of used butter to make a sauce and serving old beef to the customers who ordered it well done.
There are many more recent examples of restaurants serving contaminated food and having unsanitary kitchens, especially by fast food joints. Most recently, a lawsuit by the former manager of a Kentucky Friend Chicken franchise in Oregon alleges the owner fired other employees for refusing to serve chicken that had turned green and passed its expiration date. According to the lawsuit, he resigned because he “couldn’t stand serving rotten chicken to families anymore.”
The website kfcmademesick.com chronicles a not-so-finger-lickin’-good list of other health code violations associated with the fried chicken franchise. They include rodent infestations, salmonella contamination, and foreign objects such as bandages and cock roaches showing up in cooked food.
Fast food dangers
Not to single out one business, an undercover NBC Dateline investigation revealed that 60% of restaurants in the nation’s top 10 chains had received critical health code violations in the year-and-a-half prior to the report. Caroline Smith-Dewaal who works for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food safety watchdog group, explained, “A critical violation is something that happens in a restaurant that may result in the food becoming contaminated.”
Some of the recurring problems at franchises such as McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King were rodent droppings, insects, food borne illnesses, debris and grime on counters and in prep areas, and poor employee sanitation. Given that about 25% of Americans eat fast food everyday, that’s millions of opportunities to be exposed to something nasty, or worse, a pathogen that could make you sick.
The Huffington Post catalogs a revolting list of items reported to have been found in customers’ fast food. Some of the gruesome highlights: maggots in Wendy’s fries, saliva on a Whopper, a bloody band-aid in a Pizza Hut pizza crust, and a fried mouse in a basket of Popeye’s chicken.
As for independent restaurants, Bourdain claims that kitchens are more sanitary than when he was working on the line. “Things are much better now—with fish markets, with the quality of food handling in general,” he told WebMD. “There is a sense of pride and raised expectations in kitchens now that didn’t exist when I started out.” The availability of restaurant inspection reports online may also be pushing owners to clean up their acts.
Nevertheless, restaurant report cards have no control over the impulsive nature of human beings. Maybe it would be better just to sweeten that tea yourself.