Origins: Claims of human body parts turning up in food products are the most horrifying of contaminated food legends, both because of our very strong societal taboo against the eating of human flesh, and because such a discovery suggests a human death, almost certainly one that was accidental rather than natural (and which conjures up images of a slow and painful death by industrial accident), or at least a painful dismemberment.
Fortunately, improved health and safety standards in food processing make such occurrences quite rare, and most reports of consumers finding body parts in food turn out to be hoaxes, frauds perpetrated to extort money from businesses, or cases of mistaken identity. (In the latter case, something that looks like a human body is often found, upon examination by experts, to be something else entirely. See, for example, our page about a scare involving a finger supposedly found in a can of menudo.) In March 2005, the news media were once again full of reports that such a grisly discovery had been made.
On the evening of 22 March 2005, Anna Ayala, a 39-year-old resident of Las Vegas was dining at a San Jose outlet of the Wendy's fast food restaurant chain when she discovered what appeared to be a human finger in her bowl of chili. According to the San Jose Mercury News:
Cordero said the object appeared cooked and seemed to have a long fingernail at the end. All three people soon became sick.
"We went up to the counter and they told us it was a vegetable," Cordero said. "The people from Wendy's were poking it with a spoon."
[San Jose police officer Enrique] Garcia said the Santa Clara County Health Department is taking over the investigation. "It was some sort of small mass which appeared to have a fingernail. It's a small piece," Garcia said. "They collected the finger and placed it in a freezer for the health department."
Wendy's offered a $50,000 reward for information on the origin of the finger as sales at Wendy's outlets (particularly in the San Francisco-San Jose bay area) dropped off significantly in the weeks following the incident. Meanwhile, suspicions that
The case took a few more intriguing turns in mid-April. First
Ms. Allman offered to submit to DNA testing to identify whether the finger supposedly found in the bowl of Wendy's chili was hers, but a match was doubtful in light of news reports that her lost fingertip was only half as long as the one Anna Ayala claimed to have found. On
On 21 April 2005, Anna Ayala was arrested by Las Vegas police on charges of attempted grand larceny pertaining to the Wendy's case. Police later determined the mysterious finger Ayala claimed to have found in a bowl of chili came from an associate of her husband's, who lost his fingertip when it was severed in the tailgate of a truck during a work accident at an asphalt maintenance company and evidently gave the digit to a
In June 2013, Anna Ayala pled guilty to charges of being an accessory to a felony, filing a false police report, and being a felon in possession of a firearm for attempting to hide the fact that her son had accidentally shot himself in the ankle with a gun he was not allowed to possess because he was on parole, instead blaming two other men for the shooting.
Last updated: 5 June 2013
"Woman Who Claimed She Found a Finger in Her Bowl of Wendy's Chili Arrested in Las Vegas."
Associated Press. 22 April 2005. Gathright, Alan et al. "Police Search Home of Woman Who Found Finger." San Francisco Chronicle. 8 April 2005. Gathright, Alan and Meredith May. "Worker Gave His Finger to Settle $50 Debt." San Francisco Chronicle. 18 May 2005. Goldman, Adam.
"Woman Who Lost Fingertip in Leopard Attack Claims Link to Bit Found in Fast-Food Chili."
Associated Press. 14 April 2005. Gonzales, Sandra. "Woman Claims to Find Finger in Eatery's Chili." [San Jose] Mercury News. 23 March 2005. Grady, Barbara. "Finger Report Hits Wendy's San Francisco-Area Sales." Reuters. 11 April 2005. Kaplan, Tracey. "San Jose 'Chili-Finger Lady' to Get Two Years for New Hoax." Contra Costa Times. 5 June 2013. Reed, Dan, et al. "Officials: Object Found in Chili Is Finger." [San Jose] Mercury News. 23 March 2005. Reed, Dan. "Finger Mishap Has Wendy's Customer Fuming." [San Jose] Mercury News. 25 March 2005. Sakuma, Paul. "Couple Plead Guilty in Wendy's Finger Case." Associated Press. 9 September 2005. Associated Press. "Wendy's Patron Bites into Human Finger in Chili." azcentral.com. 24 March 2005. Associated Press. "Wendy's Staff Fingers Counted As Search Continues for Owner of Digit in Chili." cnews.canoe.ca. 24 March 2005. Associated Press. "Woman Who Found Finger Has Litigious History." Los Angeles Times. 9 April 2005. Associated Press. "Woman Drops Lawsuit Claiming Finger in Chili." Detroit Free Press. 14 April 2005. Associated Press. "Tailgate Blamed for Finger in Chili Claim." 15 May 2005. Reuters. "Wendy's Doubles Chili Finger Reward." 15 April 2005.