Update: Employee mixed chemical in sweet tea thinking it was sugar, woman in critical condition

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — A woman eating at a Dickey’s Barbeque Pit in South Jordan remains in critical condition after she was poisoned from a cup of sweet tea.

Jan Harding

Jan Harding – Facebook

Within seconds of tasting the drink Sunday afternoon, authorities said 67-year-old Jan Harding’s mouth and throat started to burn.

Harding’s attorney said Jan spit out the tea, turned to her husband and said, “I think I just drank acid.”

An analysis of the drink found there was not only tea in the serving container but a mix of cleaning chemicals as well.

The family’s attorney told Fox 13 doctors said they hope the toxic chemical has not caused any perforations or tears in Jan’s esophagus or stomach.

Investigators said a Dickey’s employee mixed the chemical, “Clean Force Fryer Cleaner,” into the sweet tea drink thinking it was sugar; it has a similar appearance.

The cleaning product is primarily made of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, a caustic and dangerous chemical compound.

“It can cause pretty severe burns, potentially burn through the esophagus and cause some severe bleeding and internal injuries,” Dr. Spencer Smith said, who works in the emergency room at the U hospital.

FOX 13 News reached out to the franchise owner, Finger Lickin Brands LLC., which runs the South Jordan Dickey’s as well as others. 

In a statement, company president John Thomson said: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to our guest and her family. Safety is something we take very seriously when it comes to our valued guests, as well as our own team members. At this time we are fully involved in cooperating with all parties. Out of respect for the privacy of our guest and her family, we will reserve further remarks for the time being.”

Harding, a Sandy resident, was rushed to a nearby hospital and later flown to the University of Utah Hospital’s burn center where she is in critical condition.

Jan Harding - Facebook

Jan Harding – Facebook

“Is this something that was stored improperly? Was it an accident? Was it intentional? We really don’t know,” South Jordan Officer Sam Winkler said. “That’s why our investigators are looking in on this case.”

Following Sunday’s incident, the Salt Lake County Health Department was called to the restaurant to inspect the facility.

Officials found no existing risk to the public after completing a routine review.

27 comments

  • Trish Ramirez

    How could you possibly not distinguish between sugar and a caustic chemical in a food service establishment? They should not be stored near each other and they should be properly labeled. Not to mention the smell. This doesn’t make sense.

  • Kevin

    Fox 13 news is not news…they job is entertainment and their continued sensationalizing of stories like this shows how far away from journalism they have grown. An employee made a serious mistake and since the family already has an attorney they are looking for a big payday from this. I’ve seen the in depth reporting of this 1 in a million mistake since one of the people they interviewed said they had never seen a case like this. Fox is great to ask all the questions when they can make an individual tragedy into big news. Now when the unarmed man gets shot by police, or the oitizen’s dog is shot in its own backyard, and my favorite when you “forget” your 11 month old child and leave her in a locked car for several hours as in Hurricane they barely scratch the surface of asking any questions….but from Fox News I’ve learned in Utah it is okay to forget your child and leave them to die in a car and you won’t face any charges….in the name of “safety” it is okay for the cops to shoot an unarmed person or a dog doing nothing but being outside in its enclosed backyard….if you kill 10 horses you will face criminal charges (the only one they got right)….and if you are making minimum wage at some restaurant and you make a mistake chances are you will face charges….go after some real news like why are the parents in Hurricane not been charged because IF “forgetting” your child is in the car with you and leaving (continued forgetfulness I guess) them for 1-3 hours (depending on who’s story your believe) and they die from heat stroke and dehydration is not a crime I am missing something here. Do your jobs and get some answers fox 13…

    • Ray

      They are NOT trying to seek a payday. they are a very nice couple and right now she is in critical condition and may never have a normal life again. This was horrible.

    • Mike

      Kevin, you have some growing up to do. I have some close personal experience with two situations very similar to the one in Hurricane. You obviously don’t know what you are talking about and have no actual experience with these car tragedies. You come across like a judgmental, insensitive turd with your ignorant quotation marks around the words “forgot”. When that happens, it is terrible and children sometimes die but it does happen to good people who love their children and it could happen to you. The experiences I am close to and familiar with happened to the best of people.

    • Lucy

      Please don’t generalize all stories together. I know this couple personally and they are gracious and wonderful and not malicious at all. The fact that police are investigating it, alone, proves the need for them to seek legal council. This is a horrid thing that happened and how dare you belittle the pain of that family by making such ignorant and rude remarks. They are suffering terribly right now.

    • Kami

      Umm, yes, if you make a “mistake” that kills or almost kills someone you need to be charged for your actions. If you are a restaurant and you accidentally poison a customer, you will probably be sued. That is *exactly* what the system is for and why we have liability insurance!

    • Brenda

      Well, Kevin, it sounds like you have a problem with Fox…so CBS, NBC, and ABC didn’t cover this story? They also didn’t sensationalize it? Please, be real

  • Josh

    The restaurant manager being the higher authority that he is entitled to and take action against the idiotic employee that did this and drug test that person..
    My prayers and blessings go out to the family. I don’t know them but I hope she pulls thru this.
    I had something like this happen to me awhile ago. I was at a party in bountiful and someone spiked my drink with radiator fluid and I had to drive myself all f***”d up to the LDS hospital where I almost lost my life. Thank God I pulled thru.
    But it was no fun what they had to do to me to clean out my system..

  • JEFF

    Kevin you are an ignorant embicile. Please go live in Russia or a 3rd world country where you might learn to appreciate the freedoms and protections we enjoy in the USA. We don’t need people like you here.
    And anyone who thinks or says that this family is going to be living it up after this is over can go somewhere else with Kevin. This lady is quite possibly on her death bed or may never recover from her injuries. Do you have no compassion?!

  • Suzanne

    This makes NO sense. First of all, if the employee mistakenly sweetened the tea with a chemical he/she thought was sugar, why was this woman the only one who got the glass of tea with the chemical in it? I would think anyone who ordered sweet tea would have be served the same tainted tea. Also, why would ANY cleaning/chemical agent be stored ANYWHERE near food or beverages? I think there’s more to this story.

    • Marc Lugash

      She was probably the first to pour tea from the container after it was refilled with the toxic tea. Her reaction was immediate and the tea would have been removed immediately.

  • No Body

    The barometer in general for intelligence, in Utah, is well below ignorant. People who comment on a situation that they are frightened by after hearing the disproportionate, unreliable ‘NEWS REPORTING’ can never ever be sure they are getting any information based upon genuine facts. Indeed, it is seriously troubling, in fact, IF any body would be poisoned, carelessly or intentionally, at the hands of those who take employment within the FOOD SERVICE CAPACITY.
    NO MALICE INTENDED, but the poor gal would be better off dead as the inevitable and obvious damage she is suffering and will continue to suffer from this incident will very well make her attitudes/opinions/beliefs upon the quality of life radically diminish.
    As for the rest of the continuing, tragic, Utah stories; UNTRAINED OR POORLY TRAINED POLICE OFFICERS, STRESSED OUT PARENTS, ANYBODY WHO USES A WHOLE LIST OF EXCUSES TO BLAME FOR CAUSING THE DEATH OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, directly points to the fact, Utah, a state which originated from the formulation of a CULT, is long overdue it’s penance for igniting the clear and obvious evolution of such undaunted and unquestionable ignorance.
    One more fact to consider; this particular CULT has been driven from it’s inception to intentionally spread like a lethal virus more ignorance than has ever been known to mankind, more even than purported from the Dark Ages. And factually has succeeded in going global by leaving a permanent legacy for entirely consuming it’s host with a mental virus which spreads like cancer and is more lethal. Hosts who are no longer capable to recognize their contribution to such a dramatic loss, FOR ALL MANKIND, to no longer have any potential for grasping nor gaining any access to intelligence.

  • David

    Those vats of tea are dangerous since they have to be mixed by humans, many of whom who are working in the kitchen of a restaurant are sub-moronic. The Coke/Pepsi dispensers are far safer since the syrup comes mixed in the containers. The person who mixed in the lye should face negligent homicide if Mrs. Harding dies, or gross negligent injury if she somehow survives. I hate frivolous lawsuits, but in this case, if Mr. Harding his children and grandchildren want to go after Dickey’s for every penny they’re worth, I say go for it.
    Sadly, lye has an infamous history in Utah. It was used by the dastardly killers in the Hi-Fi murders in Ogden in 1974. The victims were forced to drink large amounts of Drano, and it caused huge blisters in their mouths and ripped apart their insides. Of course, that wasn’t enough for the killers; they raped and tortured a poor 19-year old lady, and shot the men and an older woman.

  • IllinoisBoy1977

    If a chemical was in a food prep area and not properly labeled, that’s a breakdown in management. It’s the GM’s responsibility to ensure that safe storage and labeling practices are in place and being followed. Not only should the victim be handsomely compensated for her pain and suffering, the store manager should be fired for failure to adequately perform the functions of his/her position.

    This is why we pay managers a higher wage. They’re at fault when there’s a breakdown in operations, policies or safety standards.

  • Joey Malcolm

    Let’s just pray if we have belief wish her well if we don’t and our main concern should be her recovery and hopefully this type of incident doesn’t happen to another innocent person . Eating out literally has become dangerous and I for one have stopped eating out as cooking at home makes it feel more like home and is healthier and better for us . I just hopes she recovers and whatever caused this accident is corrected . We’ll wishes to her and her family

  • Alice

    Don’t order anything pre-mixed when out, I guess. Or just don’t go out. What a bizarre thing to happen. I hope the woman can heal without permanent injury.

  • Laura Lynn

    First of all, for this to be considered accidental is crazy because whoever made the tea normally would’ve tasted it to make sure that it was sweet enough or if they don’t drink tea, would’ve asked another employee to taste. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over 20 some years & that’s just always how it’s been anywhere I’ve worked. So obviously, it would seem to me that it was definitely an intentional act otherwise the employee who made the tea would’ve been the one sufferring & not this sweet innocent woman!!!

  • buffieriley

    Apparently they ate quite early and she was the first person to drink the sweet tea. Her esophageal burns are quite extensive and she has severe mouth burns as well. She is still in critical condition. Her quality of life or even her ability to eat normally again will only become apparent with time. As a nurse, I can say with confidence that she has a long road to recovery. She deserves restitutions for current and future medical bills and her pain and suffering. Sending positive thoughts to her, her family, and loved ones.

  • dee

    @john Thompson

    “This is terrible but a bit hypocritical for a mormon going out to eat on a Sunday then drinking tea ”
    What an atrocious religious discriminatory statement to make!Would it have been better if she were Catholic or Lutheran? I flagged your comment for removal.

  • dave

    sounds like you sheriti crowther (i used your name because sometimes my posts get misplaced) know more about this material than any of those who have posted so far. so is the chemical talked about if you placed it in a cup along side sugar how hard would it be to tell the two apart or are those saying this employee is incredibly stupid right.

    ive never messed with the stuff but i can imagine it could happen fairly easy, their are many powders i can think of that are confusable with sugar/powdered sugar and you would need to use some other since to tell them apart (baking soda, baking powder, powdered milk, even cleaners like cameo and comet look like powdered sugar) and if you were in a hurry it would be easy to get these things confused.

    whats your professional/educated understanding. i love facts and hearing from people who know.

    also id appreciate it if you would talk about the containers these things should be in vs if the chemical was observed alone like if pored onto a counter top along side sugar.

  • Heather Pickett

    Hazardous chemicals are labeled with big, red diamonds and symbols that indicate that they are poisonous, even if you can’t read English. This particular chemical, sodium hydroxide, heats up and bubbles like it is boiling when it is added to liquid. Whoever did this was either incredibly stupid or did it on purpose. If the restaurant had put it into a different container or left it near the sugar, they were violating health codes. It’s Drano. It wouldn’t just taste bad or need to be pumped out of your stomach, it would instantly burn through your flesh. She could have holes in her esophagus, mouth, stomach, and will probably have serious scarring, if she doesn’t die from it.

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