LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It's the kind of thing you hear about but don't think anyone would really do.
Vegas local Cynthia Baer says believe it.
"This actually happens to people! It happened to me," she said.
A frustrated worker might actually spit in your food.
Here's Baer's story: she's a single mom selling her handmade masks on Etsy to help make ends meet. She says she needs to stay home and help her young children with online school.
"We live such a careful lifestyle. We stay home. We wear masks if we're out. We hand sanitize, we wash our hands, we do curbside pickups, we do school at home," she said.
On Dec. 22, Baer says she drove through her local McDonald's, an independently-owned franchise on Tropicana Avenue and Jones Boulevard, to treat the kids to some fries and a strawberry shake.
"And I like to get a coffee - an iced sugar-free French vanilla latte, to be exact," Baer said.
But that day, her usual drive-thru experience turned out to be anything but.
"She (drive-thru employee) cut me off halfway through my order and I said I'm not done ordering. I want to still order my drink. And she goes, well, it's too late to order," Baer said.
Baer said she asked to speak with a supervisor: "And he said he would take care of it and to pull forward and they would get my order. And then they said, which I thought was curious, your drink's not ready so you need to go to the third window."
Curious, but not yet concerned, she says she drank the iced coffee only to get a nasty surprise when she was nearly finished.
"I felt that texture -- it's a slimy, jelly-like texture in your mouth. And you know what that is and it's definitely not coffee. I could see there was a lot more in the bottom of the cup and it was a pretty large amount that was in my mouth," Baer said.
Her coffee contained mucous and saliva, according to Baer, that she believed came from the McDonald's employee she had words within the drive-thru.
"To me, it's like a threat to your life. It really is. We're all walking around wearing masks, social distancing, not going to school, working from home, and this person has the audacity to spit directly into something that you're going to drink! It is so dangerous!" Baer said.
So, she says she immediately called McDonald's to report that her drink had been tampered with.
"It seemed like either they didn't care or they didn't believe it. And she (the store manager) said, if you can bring me the saliva, then you can make a statement if you want to. She did ask for pictures also," Baer said.
Baer says she gave McDonald's the photos they requested along with the rest of the spit that was in her drink.
"I'm sorry you had to deal with that on that end of things and I know from our side of the claim process, getting information from McDonald's was not the speediest by any means," said an insurance adjuster working for McDonald's in a phone call recorded by both sides.
The insurance adjuster told Baer about the surveillance video of the incident: "The angle's not very clear but she acknowledged it, so to me, video or not, she said she did that."
"I felt violated!" Baer said. "I felt absolutely violated and I had concerns about what you could potentially get from ingesting someone's spit. Here you have a frontline restaurant worker who is choosing to be reckless, knowing they are at very high risk for COVID."
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Asher Shahzad calls the employee's actions "unacceptable and absolutely reckless."
"If you check anybody's saliva, you will probably find let's say close to 50 or maybe 100 or thousands of germs right at that moment," Shahzad said.
And Baer says it got worse.
"I realized that I was having symptoms from COVID. I got very sick, got tested and it was positive," she said.
Baer tested positive for COVID on Dec. 27, five days after drinking the contaminated coffee.
There's no way of knowing if it came from the coffee, but in her call with the insurance company, she said she brought it up.
"I got COVID from it," Baer said to the agent. "Besides drinking someone's mucous."
"And that's like the vast majority of it. Usually, with someone who slips and breaks their arm, it's usually really straightforward. With this, I don't even know where to start, to be completely honest," the agent said to Baer. "I'm willing to work with you."
"The corporate office has offered me two free value meals and the insurance company offered me a $500 settlement," Baer said.
Baer says she declined that initial offer.
And during the recorded conversation, the agent made a second offer: "I would say right off the bat I'll double it and put it up to $1,000."
Baer says she calls that a slap in the face like I didn't matter.
McDonald's told 13 Investigates that no one was available for an on-camera interview.
However, local McDonald’s owner and operator F. Ronald Smith sent the following statement:
“Our number one priority is always the health and safety of our customers and employees. When we learned of the incident, we took the appropriate steps necessary to investigate the matter and immediately contacted local health authorities. The employee in question is no longer with our organization. We have also reached out to officials at the Southern Nevada Health District and requested that the department revoke this individual’s Food Handler Card – we sincerely hope they comply with this request.
We pride ourselves on serving safe, high quality food and beverages as well as adhering to all applicable local, state and federal guidelines and regulations. We have apologized to the customer that we didn’t meet those standards in this unacceptable incident and are taking action to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
"McDonald's has got probably the best training system in the world. They train crew, they train managers, they train owners and operators on food safety as well as other things like managerial control, etc. And to have something like this sneak through... There's no excuse for it," said Tim Moulson.
And he should know. Moulson, a certified food safety consultant, worked for the McDonald's corporation for 25 years as director of training development and as operations consultant to franchisees.
He's also the past president of the Nevada Food Safety Task Force and currently sits on the Nevada Restaurant Association board.
"This really shocks me," Moulson said. "It shocks me and I'm sure it shocks McDonald's."
He explains that restaurant employees aren't even allowed to eat or drink anywhere near the food preparation area.
"You can't help but have some spittle come out at the time when you're eating and that also can cause a communicable disease," Moulson said.
Baer says the whole experience has put her on the defensive every time she goes out to eat.
"You don't know what they're doing back there. You don't know if they're tampering with your food or not," Baer said.
And she says she hopes her story raises awareness and standards for all.
"Everyone is shocked by this," said Darcy Spears. "No one more than me," Baer replied.