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Bloody Bandage in Burrito Draws Lawsuit : Courts: Restaurant chain apologizes profusely, saying employee who had cut himself inadvertently dropped it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange County nurse who bit into a chicken burrito and chewed on a bloody bandage sued Wahoo’s Fish Tacos in Lake Forest, where a part-owner of the chain on Friday apologized and called it “a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

In a lawsuit filed this week, Anne Wutschke said she and her husband had gone to Wahoo’s in November, 1994, and she “was eating the burrito [when] she felt a foreign substance in her mouth. Upon removal of the substance from her mouth, she discovered it was actually a bloody bandage. [Wutschke] said the bandage contained a square of gauze with tape at both ends and was bloody in the middle.”

Wahoo’s general manager and part owner, Renato Lee, said Friday that an employee’s bandage fell into the lettuce as he was preparing food.

“An accident did happen where the employee, I’m told, had cut his finger and had overlooked the fact that the Band-Aid had come off as he was preparing some of the lettuce,” said Lee, who helped start the taco chain with his two brothers in 1989. The family now has six restaurants in Orange County and in Denver, Colo.

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Wutschke, a nurse for 20 years, also alleges in the lawsuit that after chewing the bandage she developed a sore throat. She also says she has been advised to undergo blood tests twice a year for the next 10 years for the AIDS virus or hepatitis.

Neither she nor her lawyer could be reached for comment.

Ed Lee, a Wahoo’s co-owner and Renato’s brother, said the employee underwent numerous blood tests immediately and months later.

“We took him to the hospital the next day to get him tested,” Ed Lee said. “We tested him again three months later, then six months. Each time he came up negative for everything.”

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Fiercely apologetic of the mishap, Ed Lee added, “We don’t allow anyone who has cuts or anything to handle food. But one person didn’t follow the rules that time, and now it has gotten us in a little bind here.”

The employee who dropped the bandage still works at Wahoo’s, Ed Lee said.

“He felt horrible,” he said. “I mean, we all felt bad. . . . And according to the Employment Development Department, you can’t fire someone for something that was not intentional.”

Renato Lee said the chain has “had a pretty problem-free existence for the seven years we’ve been around.”

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Employees at the Wahoo’s fish taco eateries are now required to wear steel mesh gloves when they cut and prepare food. They also are making more use of food processor to shred and dice the various vegetables, Ed Lee said.

“It’s one of those things you wish you could take back,” Ed Lee said.


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