Finger Food for Thought

Do you cautiously lift your hamburger bun to inspect what's inside before biting down? With recent stories -- both factual and fictional -- about pieces of human fingers and other unsavory items turning up in fast food, close inspection would seem reasonable.

But how many of these horrific allegations turn out to be true? Not many, according to David Mikkelson, who rounds up both urban legend and fact on his Web site, Snopes.com.

"In most of these cases it turns out that there is no evidence of these things and no way to corroborate the stories," said Mikkelson who founded Snopes.com, a Web site that lists urban legends. "There is a general distrust of the fast-food industry. The idea that fast food is just yucky gives these stories some lasting power."

In March, Anna Ayala claimed she found part of a human finger in a bowl of chili at a Wendy's in San José, Calif. As a wave of nausea spread over fast-food fans everywhere, Ayala threatened to sue, and business at Wendy's restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area dropped about 7 percent, according to Steve Jay, regional spokesman for the chain.

Investigators, however, determined it was all a hoax, and Ayala was charged with attempted grand theft. She maintains she did not plant the finger part. It's not clear where the digit came from.

Something Extra in Frozen Treat

But there's no mystery about the origins of a fingertip that ended up into a container of frozen custard sold at a North Carolina eatery. Clarence Stowers said he wasn't suspicious about the object in the chocolate dessert he purchased Sunday from a Kohl's Frozen Custard in Wilmington, so he put it in his mouth.

"I thought it was candy because they put candy in your ice cream or whatever to make it a treat," he told ABC News affiliate WWAY-TV in Wilmington.

"I said, 'Gosh this ice cream is good.' Then I said, 'Gosh, there's something hard in my ice cream,' " said Stowers.

He removed the object from his mouth and rinsed it off at the kitchen sink. "[I] realized it was a human finger, and I just started screaming," he said.

It turns out that a Kohl's employee lost part of his finger in an accident earlier that day. Shop owner Craig Thomas said 23-year-old Brandon Fizer accidentally put his finger into a machine that beats the custard mix. Shop workers went to Fizer's assistance, unaware that part of the digit had landed in a bucket of frozen custard. A worker at the drive-through window, unaware of what had happened, gave Stowers custard from that bucket.

It was the second time in less than a year that a worker lost part of a finger to the same machine. That worker is suing, alleging he was given no safety training and was fired shortly after the incident. An investigation by the state Labor Department determined there was no wrongdoing on the part of Kohl's.

Despite these incidents, workplace statistics show body parts winding up in food is extremely rare.

The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2003 the agency recorded 5,620 nonfatal fingertip amputations in private workplaces that resulted in the loss of at least one day of work. Only 300 of those occurred at leisure and hospitality workplaces -- a category that includes restaurants and ice cream parlors.

No statistics are available on how often amputated digits end up in the food supply, a spokesman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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