Last April, Pierrette Caouette stopped for what she thought would be a yummy salad at a Normandin restaurant while she was travelling for work in Quebec City.
The first bit of cucumber tasted odd, she said, but she never would have guessed that what lay beneath would lead her to sue the company that owns Normandin restaurants for nearly $200,000.
“I didn’t know if it was a bird, a mouse, I couldn’t tell you,” Caouette, 55, told CBC News.
She had started chewing something tough, so she moved the salad to the right.
That’s when she saw a dead animal the size of her hand, said Caouette, who filed a motion May 29, claiming she suffers from symptoms of post traumatic stress as a result of the incident.
“It didn’t taste like food. I spit it out, I vomited it out,” she said. “It was a big piece … I don’t know how the cook didn’t see what was in the plate.”
Caouette hailed a passing server and the meal was whisked away. She said she sat alone in agony as the table was cleared, but the staff wouldn’t show her what she’d eaten.
“They gave me a glass of water and they left,” she said. Another patron in the packed restaurant brought her a tissue, saying she didn’t know what happened but that she felt sorry for her.
“I wasn’t one to scream … I was in the dark, I was so shocked. It’s really not something you expect to see in your plate,” said Caouette, who lives in Terrebonne.
When the restaurant’s manager refused to let her see what was in her plate again, Caouette called the police.
The first thing the officer who went into the kitchen said when he returned was that Caouette should go to the hospital.
Her lawyer, Martina Bakula, said she was taken by ambulance and has received four tetanus shots since.
‘High levels of E. coli’
The Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries (MAPAQ) et de l’Alimentation confirmed what was in Caoutte’s salad was an animal carcass with “very high levels of E. coli,” Bakula said.
She said the type of animal wasn’t confirmed “due to its very deteriorated condition.”
Bakula said Caouette suffered a “series of repercussions on her emotional, psychological health,” for which she is claiming damages as well as lost salary due to missing work.
Mixed foods, salads and restaurant ads still make Caouette nauseous, she said, she’s been undergoing “visualization” therapy to slowly start tolerating those things again.
Normandin’s sales and marketing vice president Jean Julie, reached by Radio-Canada, wouldn’t comment on the plaintiff’s allegations.
“We serve 8.5 million customers every year. We’ve been in business for 48 years and are extremely mindful of [quality]. It’s an exceptional case,” Julien said.
He said the salad was pre-packaged and supplied by a company in California.
The probe conducted by MAPAQ found no infestation at the Bouvier Street restaurant.
Bakula said it’s not something you see often in Quebec.
“The extent, I would say, of the incident is quite big,” she said.