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Woman drinks chemical-filled tea at Utah restaurant

KTVX/CNN
Friday, August 15, 2014 - 5:17pm

A Utah woman is hospitalized after drinking sweet tea accidentally mixed with industrial cleaner.

Jan Harding knew right away when she took a sip of her sweet tea something wasn't right.

"Jan Harding went to the iced tea dispenser and filled it up and she took a sip and immediately coughed it out and spat it out. Her first words to her husband, She turned to him and said 'I think I just drank acid,'" her attorney Paxton R. Guymon said.

It's believed large quantities of a product known "clean force fryer cleaner" was mixed into the sweet tea dispenser.

"By the accounts that we've heard so far either the store manager or the employee put six cups of this white powder substance into the iced tea mixer and stirred it up thinking that perhaps that was sugar," Guymon stated.

The cleaning product is used as a degreaser to clean deep fryer restaurant equipment and is made up of 67 percent sodium hydroxide - also known as lye.

"That's a very high concentration. Most household products, like a drain cleaner is going to have much lower concentration of sodium hydroxide. If you were to swallow it, you can imagine it would burn the tissues in your mouth and down into your
esophagus and down into your stomach," said Barbara Insley Crouch, executive director of the Utah Poison Control Center.

Jan is now being treated at the University of Utah Burn Center. She is intubated and cannot speak. Doctors are hoping it is not causing any tears to her esophagus or stomach.

"It's a very touch and go situation with Jan Harding and there are no guarantees that she is going to survive."

The south Jordan Police Department and the Salt Lake County Health Department is investigating how this happened and why the industrial cleaner wasn't properly marked.

"It's common for the food industry to receive chemicals in bulk form, in a bulk pkg then they transfer those to a spray bottle or smaller container so it's easier to use, easier to store, if they do that the original bulk pkg must have the manufacturers label," said Jeffrey Oak with the Salt Lake County Health Department.

The franchise owner of the Dickey's Barbecue Pit restaurant says they are fully cooperating with the police investigation.  

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