By Ed Brock
A customer found part of a mouse or rat in his greens at the Piccadilly Restaurant in Morrow and it prompted a voluntary withdrawal of the suspected frozen greens for the 132-restaurant chain, officials said Tuesday.
Collis Warren found the rodent chunks on Sept. 1, Piccadilly Regional Manager Clint Celestin said.
Warren could not be reached, but he told WSB-TV news in Atlanta: "After this happened to me it's been kind of difficult for me to eat at different places. And when I do eat basically it's hot dogs. I try not to eat nothing I can't see."
Celestin said he was in the Morrow restaurant on the day the incident occurred.
"We contacted the health department. It was their conclusion that the contamination came frozen in the product," Celestin said.
Celestin said it was the first time in the Baton Rouge, La.-based company's history of such an incident.
Following the incident Piccadilly issued a voluntary withdrawal of products with that lot number from the company that provided the greens, MagicValley Fresh Frozen in McAllen, Texas, Piccadilly Risk Manager Mike Misuraca said. They inspected the Magic Valley facilities and the restaurant chain will continue to use them as a supplier.
"They're doing everything they're supposed to do," Misuraca said.
Magic Valley did not respond in time for this article.
Celestin said that as far as he knew the customer did not eat any of the greens. However, Walter Howard, district environmental health director for the Clayton County Health Department, said he understood the customer did take a few bites before discovering the rodent parts.
Howard said the customer contacted the health department, after which an inspector gathered samples of the contaminated greens and brought them back for visual inspection.
"To us it did look like rodent parts," Howard said.
Inspectors examined the restaurant and found no signs of rodent infestation. Howard said the customer was probably not in danger of contracting an illness from the rodent parts if they were properly cooked, but live rats would be a problem if they leave feces and urine on or near food products. Howard said it was possible the contamination occurred at the Magic Valley facility, but he couldn't be certain.
"We don't know how exactly it got into the food," Howard said. "We just don't want it to happen again."
Celestin said he believes the rat was chopped up during the processing of the chopped greens. Cooks at the restaurant generally put the frozen product directly into the cooking pot without thawing it first so they would have had no way to detect the contamination.
Maintaining food safety is a high priority for the company, Celestin said, and they use an outside company to perform routine inspections on the restaurants. Those inspections have been increased for the Morrow restaurant.
"This is just an isolated incident," Celestin said.
Howard also said the restaurant had taken "aggressive action" to deal with the situation.
Picadilly has 132 restaurants throughout the Southeast.
Richard Mote was nonchalant when told Tuesday that parts of a rodent had been found in the turnip greens at the Piccadilly Restaurant in Morrow where Mote had stopped for lunch.
"Oh well. It happens," said the Sarasota, Fla. man in town for a visit.