LATE-NIGHT comedians have had a field day with the story about the California woman who claimed to have found a 1 1/2-inch section of a human finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili in San Jose last month.
Well-manicured, but unidentified, the finger became a symbol of production line butchery in the fast-food industry. People in the Golden State promptly lost their appetite for Wendy's fast food, fearful of what else might turn up in their Old Fashioned Hamburgers or Chicken Temptations. There's nothing like finding body parts in your food to put a crimp in your whole day.
"[The woman] went back there for lunch today," David Letterman joked recently on his late-night program. "She's trying to collect all five."
Ohio-based Wendy's International Inc. isn't laughing, though. Being the object of national ridicule has been bad for business. The company has had to lay off employees and cut hours in California because too many customers are staying away.
After launching an internal investigation and offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the fingertip's owner, private investigators and the Wendy's corporation concluded that wherever the severed digit came from, it didn't begin in the Wendy's supply chain.
Eventually, the company's suspicions turned to Anna Ayala, the woman who said she found it in her chili.
Ms. Ayala was arrested last week in Las Vegas and her home was searched for clues that might lead to the finger's original owner. It's not surprising that the suddenly shy Ms. Ayala also has dropped her lawsuit against the owner of Wendy's Fresno franchise, complaining that the shift in her status from victim to possible extortionist has been "stressful."
One wonders why, given her track record. She has a litigious history and has filed claims against several companies, including her employer and General Motors.
If it turns out that Wendy's suspicions about Ms. Ayala are correct, she should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Too many bogus complaints against restaurants and food chains crowd out legitimate claims.
And of course, Wendy's is damaged regardless. For now, it's impossible to order a Wendy's chili and not at least wonder what it might contain. That is grossly unfair, with emphasis on the gross.