Iowa firefighter says his Panda Express meal contained shards of glass

By: - August 16, 2022 12:47 pm

The Panda Express at 1580 Valley West Drive in West Des Moines is facing a lawsuit brought by a Dallas County man who says he was injured after ingesting pieces of glass in his meal. One of the alleged pieces is pictured above. (Restaurant photo via Google Earth; inset photo from U.S. District Court filings.)

A Dallas County man is suing Panda Express, alleging he ingested shards of broken glass in his meal.

Randy Hartley, a 51-year-old Des Moines firefighter, is suing the California-based restaurant chain in U.S. District Court, alleging negligence.

Hartley alleges that on Jan. 27 of this year, he visited the Panda Express at 1580 Valley West Drive in West Des Moines.

While there, he purchased two entrées – the Broccoli Beef and the String Bean Chicken Breast with a side order of fried rice and chow mein. He took the food home and, according to his lawsuit, he had consumed most of his meal when he bit down on a jagged shard of glass that was about the size of a quarter, chipping his tooth.

He then called the Panda Express, which offered to exchange his meal but without offering any explanation for the glass. Fearful that the restaurant’s “dismissive” attitude would result in injury to other customers, Hartey claims he inspected the uneaten portion of his meal and found “countless small glass shards.”

Because he had ordered “crunchy” green beans and broccoli, “he reasonably attributed” the crunch of any already eaten glass shards to the texture of the vegetables, the lawsuit states.

Hartley says he then received a follow-up call from an agent or representative of Panda Express, who told him she had contacted the West Des Moines restaurant and ordered its immediate shut down. She also promised to compensate Hartley for any medical costs, the lawsuit claims.

The woman later texted Hartley and allegedly indicated the glass shards had come from a “shattered fixture above the entrées,” presumably in the food-preparation area of the kitchen.

Two days later, Hartley claims, he began experiencing intense abdominal cramping and began passing blood, which a physician attributed to glass he had ingested. For the next three weeks, Hartley alleges, he experienced bloating, nausea, intestinal cramping, bloody stools, and intense diarrhea. He also required dental work to repair the chipped tooth and another tooth that had cracked.

In his lawsuit, Hartley alleges he lost 15 pounds as he attempted to avoid causing any additional irritation of his gastrointestinal tract and he now is “hesitant to consume foods at well-known establishments” for fear that his meals may be contaminated.

Panda Express has yet to file a response to the allegations, which were first made in Polk County District Court last month before the case was moved to federal court. The attorney for Panda Express, Philip Burian, declined to comment on the matter.

The Panda Express restaurant was inspected by the Iowa Department of Inspections and appeals on Jan. 21 of this year — six days before Hartley allegedly purchased his meal. At that time, inspectors found no deficiencies, and the restaurant was not cited for any serious risk-factor violations or any violations related to good retail practices.

Previous lawsuit dismissed

In 2015, Tammy Jo Barton of Polk County sued the Panda Express located in West Des Moines’ Valley West Mall, alleging that in January of that year she and her daughter ate at the restaurant and that her daughter’s noodles were contaminated with a metal wire from a brush used to clean kitchen utensils.

The daughter allegedly choked on the wire and later became ill after ingesting it. Panda Express did not file a response to the lawsuit and the case was dismissed two months later, with no indication of whether a settlement was involved.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.