Restaurants serving up finger food

Remember the good old days, when the worst things you'd find in fast-food meals were fats designed to clog your arteries faster than you could say "quadruple bypass?" Or when the worst you had to fear when ordering a couple of burgers a minute before closing time was the cook giving you the finger?

When you order fast food these days, you should worry less about being given THE finger than being given A finger.

In March, a woman claimed she found a part of a finger in a bowl of chili at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, Calif. The company offered a $100,000 reward for tips - Yes, that's right: Finger tips - leading to the person who lost the finger. Negative publicity sent Wendy's stock plummeting like a basket of fries into a vat of fat. That is, until the woman's story was exposed as a hoax.

Police say she concocted it as a way to pressure the chain for a legal settlement including, but not limited to, lifetime supplies of Frostys and Biggie Fries. The 39-year-old was arrested and charged with grand theft and attempted grand theft. Turns out she has a long history of litigation, as she and her children have been involved in 13 lawsuits. And oddly, it appears she carries that extra finger everywhere she goes: Cops found 11 marks on her fingerprint card.

So, case closed, right? We can resume choking down our fast food meals, assured they aren't finger lickin' bad? Not so fast.

Last week in North Carolina, a customer found part of a worker's finger in a pint of frozen custard. This digital disaster started when an employee tried to catch a bucket of custard he had dropped, then accidentally put his finger into a machine that beats the custard mix. As co-workers tried to help him, a drive-through window attendant unknowingly scooped custard from the bucket - containing a piece of index finger, severed at the first knuckle - and served it to a customer.

"I thought it was candy because they put candy in your ice cream or whatever to make it a treat," the customer told a television reporter. So he put it in his mouth before he spit it out and "just started screaming." I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

This is just an isolated incident, right? Well, not exactly. Last month, an Ohio man sued the owner of an Arby's restaurant for $50,000, claiming he found a slice of human skin on a chicken sandwich. The manager said he sliced skin from his thumb while shredding lettuce and sanitized the area but didn't throw away the bin of lettuce. The victim's sandwich contained - You guessed it - lettuce. So much for veggies being good for you.

But hey, at least these menu items contained HUMAN body parts. It could have been worse: These customers could have bitten into a burger, only to find a rat head inside. That's what allegedly happened to a 9-year-old Toronto girl in 1999, who claimed she found a rat's severed head nestled between the toppings of the Big Mac she was about to eat at a McDonald's. How does that jingle go? "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and the occasional rat head?"

The family sued for $11 million, claiming the girl was traumatized by this decidedly un-Happy Meal. McDonald's no doubt would characterize the family's allegation as a complete Kroc.

McDonald's lawyers can't afford to sweat the occasional rat head lawsuit when they're busy defending the chain against charges it's fattening the youth of America and serving scalding hot coffee. Plus, there is the matter of defending the Hamburglar against breaking-and-entering charges, not to mention covering up malfeasance within the Mayor McCheese administration. Billions and billions served? Yeah, with subpoenas!

I'd tell you more about the ills of the fast food industry, but I fear retribution. These days, when fast food chains threaten to give you a knuckle sandwich, they aren't just using a figure of speech.

Ben Bromley is a former Lillie Suburban Newspapers editor and now a writer for the Baraboo News Republic.

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