I Smell a McRat

McDonalds serves up a rodent, then scurries for cover


On July 20, Whitehurst, videotaped by Chrissy's attorneys, removed the salad from the freezer and placed it in a climate-controlled FedEx shipping container. During the process, Chrissy says, Whitehurst promised Todd, "This is our responsibility. We'll make it right."

According to Scott's father and Chrissy's lead attorney, Cecil W. "Cas" Casterline, Whitehurst assured them the rat would be overnighted to Kansas State University, and autopsy results that could potentially solve the case's mysteries would be available the following Monday.

Since that day, however, the Casterlines' phone calls have been unreturned. Their attempts to retrieve the rat—which they believe to be a juvenile roof rat—have been unsuccessful. And the peace of mind they hoped to obtain through the autopsy is nowhere to be found.

A sodden rodent—believed to be a juvenile roof rat—can 
be seen in Chrissy Haley's Bacon Ranch Salad, which she 
preserved in her freezer. Haley took several bites before 
discovering it.
A sodden rodent—believed to be a juvenile roof rat—can be seen in Chrissy Haley's Bacon Ranch Salad, which she preserved in her freezer. Haley took several bites before discovering it.
A sodden rodent—believed to be a juvenile roof rat—can 
be seen in Chrissy Haley's Bacon Ranch Salad, which she 
preserved in her freezer. Haley took several bites before 
discovering it.
A sodden rodent—believed to be a juvenile roof rat—can be seen in Chrissy Haley's Bacon Ranch Salad, which she preserved in her freezer. Haley took several bites before discovering it.

"There was no autopsy performed, and there was never going to be one," says Cas, who claims Whitehurst later admitted as much during pre-lawsuit mediation in late September. "I have my doubts the rat was even sent anywhere. It's all been one big fabrication for the sole purpose of McDonald's getting its hands on the rat. We've asked for it back, but we'll probably never see it again."

Says Whitman when asked about the autopsy, "It would be highly inappropriate for me to comment on something like the details of conversations between attorneys."

In a companion guide to the National Research Council's Infectious Diseases of Mice and Rats, UT-Southwestern Medical Center's Dr. Steven P. Pakes details that rats can carry—through saliva, paws, feces and urine—30 diseases harmful, even fatal, to humans, including bubonic plague and meningitis.

"Unless it's a really odd strain of disease, you'd know if you had anything serious within 72 hours," says Tarrant County Environmental Health Manager David Jefferson. "After five months, you're in the clear."

Says Scott Casterline, "We have infectious disease specialists telling us that even if the bacterial risk has expired, serious viral infection remains a real danger."

None of this is particularly soothing to Chrissy, who for days after ingesting the salad couldn't eat but continued to breast-feed Ella before being forced to formula because her malnourished body decreased milk production. Cas Casterline delivered the news that she might have passed on a disease to her infant daughter.

"It was a difficult revelation," Cas says. "But for Chrissy and her family's safety, it had to be done. You'd like to think McDonald's would provide for an independent medical exam. But they don't want us to know, or anybody to know, the truth. They just want it all to quietly go away."

Says Chrissy, "Knowing I may have given something horrible to my daughter...it just made everything more devastating."


McDonald's, like many of the biggest and oldest fast-food chains, has a history of customers allegedly finding objects in food: broken glass, hypodermic needles, maggots, chewing gum, even condoms. Some, not unlike the infamous finger in the Wendy's chili, turned out to be hoaxes. Others, like a 9-year-old Toronto boy who bit into a severed rat head lodged between patties of his Big Mac, are settled out of court with confidentiality clauses.

But McDonald's No. 16322 boasts a history of relative cleanliness. Last April the restaurant was slapped with only four inspection violations: raw eggs being left out to possibly cross-contaminate nearby pancake batter; no thermometer in a refrigerator; dirty rings in a wash basin; no Heimlich maneuver safety poster.

"In general, if we had more restaurants like it we'd be very happy," Tarrant County's Jefferson says. "There's never been any evidence of the presence of rodents. No rub marks on the baseboards. No feces. Nothing."

Adding to the maze of confusion, Jefferson says he remembers only one other incident since 1981 of a whole rodent found in food.

Though McDonald's and Jefferson indicate there is no reason to believe a rat inside the restaurant hopped into a salad, there's also compelling evidence to suggest Chrissy Haley isn't lying—chiefly, the lack of motive. Living in an exquisite home and married to a husband with a lofty career and lucrative salary, Chrissy needs neither fame nor fortune.

"McDonald's first line of defense in these cases is always that it's a hoax," Cas says. "But we won't be intimidated by McDonald's big blowhard lawyers, and we won't succumb to a war of attrition by running out of money or time. We're fully prepared to go to trial and let a jury hear the facts."

McDonald's is expected to return its response to the original seven-page petition next week. After discovery, depositions and court motions, the trial could start as early as September 2007. Until then, try connecting these dots:

Since 4-pound bags of lettuce arrive at McDonald's from wholesalers only after vigorous chopping, the fact the rat was found whole appears to rule out that origination. And since a live rat in a salad would likely eat the lettuce and then violently gnaw its way through the flimsy container, it seems safe to assume the rodent was deceased upon encasement.

Says Jefferson, "An autopsy would've answered a lot of questions. Like, did it have lettuce in its belly?"

Given Chrissy's comfortable lifestyle and the fact that the salad was never out of sight and the lid was open less than 10 seconds before she and Kelley began eating, an elaborate hoax seems unlikely. Which, unless David Blaine's pulling a fast one, takes us back to McDonald's. Of Jefferson's likely scenarios, the most plausible involves restaurant employees.

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