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November 23, 2014

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Utah eatery that served toxic tea had labeling citation

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AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding during a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Jan Harding, 67, is in critical condition at a Salt Lake City hospital’s burn unit, unable to talk and fighting for her life, Guymon said.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah restaurant where a woman unknowingly drank iced tea mixed with chemicals, and nearly died, was cited seven months earlier for improper food labeling.

County officials issued seven violations to Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan following a January inspection, Salt Lake County Health Department records show. The year before, the restaurant had six violations.

Dickey's Barbecue has had no violations for improper chemical labeling since opening in 2012, records show.

Authorities say a worker at the establishment unintentionally put a chemical cleaning compound in a sugar bag last month. The substance ended up in a Sandy woman's glass of iced tea Aug. 10 after an employee mixed it into a beverage dispenser.

Prosecutors are reviewing a police investigation of the incident to determine if anyone should be charged.

In January, the restaurant was cited for two critical violations: employee beverages being too close to food prep areas and a dirty can opener, records show. Mislabeling of food is considered noncritical and is a common violation, health agency spokesman Nicholas Rupp said.

Overall, this Dickey's has maintained a better-than-average health rating since opening, he said.

In February 2013, the citations against the restaurant included incorrectly storing foods that can spoil; an employee not washing hands before putting on gloves; and a dirty ice machine.

Health officials visited the restaurant Aug. 11, the day after Jan Harding unknowingly drank the tea, and found a bag of sugar was not labeled. Rupp said the restaurant threw out all the sugar in the establishment after the incident but neglected to label one of the new containers with sugar.

The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the health violations.

Harding remains hospitalized but was upgraded from critical to serious condition this week. The 67-year-old can now talk with some effort and is breathing on her own, family attorney Paxton Guyton said.

Doctors last week determined she suffered deep, ulcerated burns in her upper esophagus and burns to her mouth.

The cleaning product in the tea was meant for degreasing deep fryers and contained the odorless chemical lye, the active ingredient in drain cleaners.

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