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Crisis Management
Public Relations
(Wendy’s Finger-In-Chili Case)

Passed by:
Mary Grace M. Onte

Passed to:
Prof. Roberto Palevino

Chili Finger Incident


Friday, May 6, 2005
On Thursday the 24th of March, 2005, Anna Ayala, a woman from Las Vegas, claimed to have found a human finger in her bowl of chili at a Wendy's restaurant located at 1405 Monterey Highway, just south of downtown San Jose, California, owned by Fresno-based Jern management. The finger, which probably belonged to a woman as it had a long and manicured fingernail, did not belong to any of the restaurant employees. The food supplies were seized by officials to be traced back to its manufacturers, while the restaurant was permitted to open again later with chili prepared from fresh ingredients. Anna Ayala claimed she bit down on a finger while eating Wendy's chili in San Jose, California. Police have since ruled Ayala's allegations a hoax and have arrested her. But the finger is legit. Wendy's offered up a $100,000 reward to find the finger's owner and a tip lead to an associate of Ayala's husband who lost his finger in an industrial accident.

The damage
Wendy's reported a sales drop at its Northern California locations. Employees have been laid off and work hours were reduced as a result of Ayala's claims and consumers steering clear of Wendy's. The fast food chain offered a free frosty day at the San Jose location where the scam occurred and customers were out the door waiting in line. Wendy's then offered a nationwide free frosty day and the event just happened to coincide with the news that the finger's owner had been found. Ayala was arrested for making false claims but Wendy's President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Mueller says Wendy's reputation has been damaged nationally. Stocks dropped and the chain reports first-quarter earnings fell because of the finger incident and inclement weather.

Wikinews reporter David Vasquez drove his car up to the drive-thru menu and found that chili was still on the menu, at a price of US$1.19 for a small serving. He also witnessed workers unloading supplies from a semi-trailer truck in the restaurant's parking lot, and carting them into the back door of the establishment. Initially, county health officials said Ayala was fine and the finger had been cooked, which would have killed any bacteria in the finger. However, on March 27, officials admitted they were not so sure anymore. Tests were done on the finger to determine this. Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County's health officer, said that even if the finger was still raw when Ayala bit into it, the risk was low that she would have become infected with anything. However, he advised that Ayala should undergo a series of precautionary follow-up tests. Sales at Wendy's went down because of the incident. Wendy's International, Inc. (WEN) closed at US$39.43 on Thursday the 24th, and as the stock exchange was closed for the Good Friday holiday, traders did not weigh in the stock until the next Monday. By Tuesday the 5th of April, officials had still not succeeded in tracking down the owner of the finger. The fingerprint on the detached digit has been run through an FBI database as well as the local criminal database in Santa Clara County, but no matches were found. According to Rich Reneau, who was leading the investigation at the time, the fingerprint was marginal, and the likelihood of finding a match was slim. Wendy's stock did not go down significantly and was trading at US$39.37 that morning.

Investigation centers on Ayala
The next day, on Wednesday the 6th, Las Vegas police searched the home of Anna Ayala. About a dozen officers conducted the search at Ayala's home at Maryland Parkway and Serene Street at about 4 p.m. local time (23:00 UTC), according to witnesses at the scene. Ayala and other residents were handcuffed and brought out of the house. Ayala said that her teenage daughter, Genesis Reyes, had torn...
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