A Michigan man is suing Olive Garden, alleging he found a rat’s foot in a bowl of minestrone soup he was served at the restaurant.
On Aug. 18, Madison Heights resident Thomas Howie filed a complaint with the Macomb County 16th Judicial Circuit Court over what he alleges is “failure to maintain premises free of vermin and the negligent preparation and service of food” regarding a meal he says he ordered from an Olive Garden restaurant in Warren, just north of Detroit.
Represented by lawyers Daniel A. Gwinn and Laura Bradshaw-Tucker of Troy, Michigan firm Gwinn Legal PLLC, Howie is seeking damages upward of $25,000 for both the physical injury and “mental anguish and emotional distress,” reads the lawsuit.
Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden’s parent company, denies the merit of the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
“We have no reason to believe there is any validity to this claim,” a Darden spokesperson tells TODAY.com.
In the lawsuit, Howie says he and two friends went out for dinner at the Olive Garden in question on March 11.
Ordering a minestrone soup and breadsticks to start, the plaintiff says, while conversing with his friends, he ate his soup, which were filled with “large chunks of tomatoes,” according to the complaint. Howie says he wasn’t paying attention to the bowl as he ate — “until he felt a stabbing pain in his mouth.”
“He tried to swallow, but an object was hooked into the right side of his cheek,” continues the suit, adding that Howie spat out the object and closed a napkin around it without looking at what it was. He says his friend looked and quickly covered what she saw back up.
“Mr. Howie, curious, opened the napkin. He saw the leg of a rodent, hairy and clawed. He threw up,” reads the suit.
In the complaint, Howie says that when his party informed management, they “did not seem to take the matter seriously,” denying that a rat’s foot could have been in the soup and commenting, “That’s funny. We don’t even put meat in minestrone.”
The plaintiff subsequently reported the incident to the Warren police, who arrived at the scene and took a report. Afterwards, Howie sought medical treatment at an urgent care where was given a shot to protect against tetanus and diphtheria, prescribed oral antibiotics for a cut on the inside of his cheek, and given a mouthwash typically used to treat gingivitis, the complaint says.
In the suit, Howie says that as a result of the incident, he has “become paranoid about dining at any restaurant where he cannot closely observe his food being prepared,” which he says has affected his ability to socialize.
For its part, Olive Garden shared a few points to refute the allegations with TODAY.com.
First, Olive Garden says that the photo of the foot shows no signs that it underwent a cooking process, nor does it show any signs of taking on any red color consistent with the red base of its minestrone.
Additionally, the chain provided TODAY.com with a copy of a Food Service Establishment Inspection Report, completed by the Macomb County Health Department Health Department on March 13, two days after the incident based on the Howie’s allegations and found “no evidence of rodents in the facility.”
The report lists ingredients of the chain’s minestrone soup as including: celery, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, spinach, zucchini, chopped tomatoes, beans and noodles. The report also goes through the process of preparation, which includes cooking its soups to a minimum of 165 F.
The report also states that the restaurant location’s pest control provider serviced the restaurant for a periodic preventative visit on March 11, which is the same day as the incident in the lawsuit and “there were no pests observed in their report.”
Olive Garden also says that the foot is significantly larger than Olive Garden soup spoons and would be difficult for someone to unknowingly insert in their mouth.
Finally, Olive Garden claims that both Howie and his attorney have refused its requests to provide the restaurant’s legal team with the foot to have it forensically examined to determine what species it is.
But Gwinn maintains that the restaurant is at fault in a statement provided to TODAY.com:
“We tried to work this out and avoid litigation, but Olive Garden refuses to acknowledge the serious nature of the incident, the threat food contamination poses to public health, and the ongoing harm Mr. Howie is experiencing.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com