Thorough training is critical. That’s a rough takeaway for the management team of Dickey’s Barbeque. They recently made national headlines when a woman (who is still recovering) drank a cup of sweet tea laced with toxic acid in their South Jordan (Utah) location.

According to the investigation, lye (a heavy-duty industrial cleaning solution) was unintentionally mixed into a bag of sugar and then large quantities were added into the iced tea dispenser. Tom Richmond, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, said lye is the active ingredient in products such as Drano. This cleaning product was intended to degrease deep fryers.

Although the Salt Lake County Health Department initially found chemicals to be properly labeled and separated from food items at the restaurant, the chemicals were at some point mixed in with sugar that ended up in the sugar dispenser. When employees had questioned the sugar mixture previous to this incident, a manager had tasted the substance and had to seek hospital treatment for blisters and bleeding on her tongue.

Assuming there’s no criminality found in this case, the critical element for employers to learn from this terrible incident is that training is critical. Both managers and employees need to be thoroughly educated on safety precautions and procedures. The questionable sugar mixture should have been labeled, separated, and/or discarded immediately when found unsafe.

When it comes to safety at the workplace, no shortcuts should ever be taken – particularly when harsh cleansers must co-exist in the same relative proximity with food products. As Jim Harding (husband of the victim) said, “Be careful out there. I believe the restaurant industry is safe, but… the food that you prepare or the drink that you prepare – you have a person’s life in your hands.”

Colin Thompson, Vice President - Human Resources

Author Colin Thompson, Vice President - Human Resources

Colin is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and manages internal human resources, in addition to servicing clients and overseeing our HR team. In his free time, you’ll find Colin at one of his four son’s ballgames or eating sushi.

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