We put a lot of trust in fast food, that the food we're getting from the restaurant is what we're ordering. We all know it rarely looks like the picture on the menu, to the point that it is usually a sad excuse for a meal.

But what happens if the place you're ordering from is deemed so "excessively dirty" by the health department, that the food you ordered gave you a life-altering E. coli infection that left you unable to speak, persisting paralysis, diabetes, and brain damage? This is the new reality for eleven-year-old Aspen Lamfers, who was perfectly healthy before her meal.

Lady scientist in microbiology laboratory working with E coli culture

Jenison, Michigan Wendy's Failed Inspections

To set the scene for how someone could get E. coli from Wendy's, you have to know just how nasty this Wendy's was.

Between July 27 and August 11, 2022, Wendy's in Jension received not one, but two Michigan Food Law violations that forced it to temporarily close so it could retrain its workers and fix several sanitary issues. The amount of things wrong with this place is pretty jarring, so prepare yourself:

  • Moldy strawberries, spoiled tomatoes, and day-old chili left out from the prior day
  • The food slicer and cutting boards were left dirty from the day before
  • Ineffective sanitizing solution
  • Undated produce
  • Food left on the ground
  • Premises "dirty at an excessive end of the spectrum" with mold, mildew, and built-up debris throughout
  • Dirty plumbing fixtures

Also of note:

  • An employee was seen touching their face and dirty surfaces without washing their hands before working
  • Employees didn't change gloves
  • Employees sanitize dishes before rinsing them
  • Blood from ground beef dripping across a clean food surface
  • Un-stocked hand-washing station near the drive-thru window
Photo by 3DVISU on Unsplash
Photo by 3DVISU on Unsplash

Seriously disgusting stuff that makes you wonder how a place could run like this, and that isn't even everything listed in the full report that you can read for yourself.

Aspen's E. coli Infection

According to an official complaint filed by an attorney representing the family, the Wendy's location in question received a shipment of lettuce known to have contained E. coli in July 2022 resulting in 67 infections. While it was confirmed that Aspen did not consume any of this lettuce, it would appear it still made its way into her system. On August 4, 2022, she began feeling sick and was taken to urgent care on August 6, 2022.

Photo by Petr Magera on Unsplash
Photo by Petr Magera on Unsplash

From there, Aspen's health quickly started getting worse. She was diagnosed with an STEC infection and later she was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of an STEC infection. From August 14 to September 1, 2022, her health declined dramatically.

She lost her ability to speak, with her final words being

Why am I so sick? Why? and it's so bad!

She experienced left-side weakness, her brain swelled, her fever became so high she had to be iced down, her vision became impaired, and she suffered "two significant seizures", with one lasting ten minutes.

The entire ordeal is absolutely heartbreaking to hear about, especially with someone so young. The impact on her everyday life has been substantial.

Lasting Ramifications

She now has diabetes, hypertension, a left-side weakness that doctors believe will persist her whole life, a seizure disorder, and lasting brain damage that has brought her cognitive abilities from the sixty-first percentile for reading and the seventieth percentile for math to now in the twenty-sixth percentile for reading and the ninth percentile for math.

The family is suing Meritage Hospitality Group, the owner of Wendy's, for $20 million. Meritage Hospitality Group is denying any wrongdoing, stating:

We take the health and safety of our customers very seriously. We deny any wrongdoing or failure of our food safety practices in this case. We cannot provide further comment in light of the open litigation.


Photo by Batu Gezer on Unsplash
Photo by Batu Gezer on Unsplash

Fast Food Employees Say to Avoid Eating These Items

If the employees at a fast-food location tells you not to eat something you should probably listen to them. Here is a list of food items that fast food employees suggest to not order.

Gallery Credit: Billy Jenkins

The Most Popular Fast Food Restaurants in Michigan

What are the most popular fast-food restaurants here in Michigan? If you're automatically assuming that the chain with the Golden Arches has the most locations, you're in for a shock.

As you take a look at the pics below, see if you can figure out which location we've featured. All pictures are from the greater Flint area, and we've left in just enough background for you to be able to make an educated guess.

The answers are below.

By the way, the ranking is based on the restaurants with the most locations in The Mitten, based on data from the Friendly City Lab at Georgia Tech. Their numbers are based on data compiled in 2021, so some numbers may have fluctuated since then.

Gallery Credit: George McIntyre