10:22 AM EDT, August 20, 2014
A single sip of ice tea has thrown one woman into a life-or-death medical crisis.
Sixty-seven-year-old Jan Harding remains in the intensive care unit after drinking ice tea laced with poisonous lye at a Dickey's Barbeque Pit restaurant.
It happened after attending church services near Salt Lake City. Jan and her husband, Jim, stopped at the local Dickey's for lunch. Jan filled a cup at the ice tea dispenser. Disaster struck moments later when she took a sip.
Jim told INSIDE EDITION, “She was gagging and choking and coughing and spitting. I asked ‘What's wrong?’ And she said, ‘I think I just drank acid.’”
Now, his wife of 46 years finds herself with serious burns inside her mouth and down her esophagus.
How could such a thing happen?
A former Dickey's worker says she knows. In an exclusive interview with INSIDE EDITION, Becca Rackley says she accidentally mixed lye, which is used as a cleaning solvent, into a container of sugar.
She told INSIDE EDITION, “I was heartbroken."
After realizing her mistake, Rackley said she informed her boss who then tasted the mixture.
Rackley said, "She licked her finger and she stuck it in the sugar. She licked it again and she turned around and went to the sink behind and started spitting it out. She said she had to go to the hospital right after."
For some inexplicable reason, no one threw out the mixture. It laid in the kitchen for five weeks.
She said, “We all knew at that store not to use that sugar."
Lye is so toxic that warning labels on the packaging call for gloves and safety glasses to be worn just to handle it. Lye crystals resemble sugar, they appear nearly identical. That's why lye should never be stored anywhere near sugar or any other food products.
Ten days ago, another employee, unaware of the mix-up, apparently poured the lye-sugar mix into the ice tea dispenser thinking it was pure sugar. Jan was the first customer to drink ice tea that Sunday morning.
Her son, Scott says he doesn't understand why the restaurant didn’t get rid of the tainted sugar immediately.
Scott told INSIDE EDITION, “It goes to a new level. There was negligence but also total disregard.”
Jan’s family says she is communicating with them in a whispered voice. They're still in shock that she is in this critical state all because she took a sip of ice tea.
Her husband said, "How does that happen? How is that possible? How is that possible?"
The restaurant told INSIDE EDITION in a statement that nothing like this has ever happened before and their prayers go out to Mrs. Harding and her family.