Marvin Zindler's Bleach In The Ice Machine

I just had an awful scare. I called my fiancé at four o’clock this afternoon, when I got home for Thanksgiving break. He was at work, but his dad promised to have him call me when he got home. Ten o’clock comes around, and he still hasn’t called. So I call him.
“Oh,” he says. “I guess you haven’t heard, yet.”
Seems he spent the afternoon in the emergency room. Some @$$hole poured bleach in the ice at the Smoothie King where he works. He ate some, and so did a customer. Carl vomited several times, and went to Ben Taub Hospital (though his boss thought that this was being “overly cautious”.) His mouth and throat are burned, but other than that and the vomiting, he’s ok. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do (since he already expelled the bleach from his system), but that he should rest and not eat anything for awhile.
Ok, now that I’ve told the story, here’s the question: What could have happened? How much would he have had to ingest to become seriously ill? How much would kill him? Did he get off as lucky as I think? Is there anything he should look out for (signs that his injury was worse than he thinks)?

BTW, for those of you not from Houston, Marvin Zindler is a local newsperson who does restaurant reports. He’s famous for finding “sliiiiiiiime in the ice machine!”


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Well bleach is chlorine and most places put at least some chlorine in the water. But straight ? Yowza ! I work with the stuff, cleaning the equipment and running it through the automatic washers etc. Get some on your hands and there is some slight burning. If there is an open cut, gives you a nasty sting. Something like the throat it would probably really irritate. Sounds like his boss wasn’t worried enough. It sounds like they let him out of the hospital relatively quick so it can’t be to serious.

NOW I remember why I moved away from Houston…

I think that someone got confused here. The cleaning solution is SUPPOSED to be run through at the end of the day, and the first few pounds of ice that come out afterward are caught in a bucket and discarded. That evidently didn’t happen in this case.

Some places are too cheap to buy the cleaning solution, or they simply run out, and they use straight bleach. That’s probably against some code somewhere.


      • Something involving ingesting bleach happened some time back in the St Louis area: a manager thought a few employees were spending to much time drinking coffee, so she put some bleach into the coffeepot! The first lady that drank some burned her throat also, went to hospital, and so on. I dunno what happened to the manager. - MC

Chlorox ™ brand bleach and other chlorine bleaches are basically a 5% solution of sodium hypochlorite in water.

From The Merck:

“Ingestion may cause corrosion of mucous membranes, esophageal or gastric perforation, laryngeal edema.”

No toxicology data; it looks like the main thing to be worried about is it corroding your insides, and presumably the hospital has checked for that already.

Thanks for the info, guys. I was very worried because I had no idea what bleach would do.
As for it being a mix-up, I think it’s suspected that this was intentional. Somebody around there doesn’t like the Smoothie King, and this isn’t the first instance of vandalism (if it can be called that).

I’d think it would be more like some kind of assault.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

Cess, I’m glad he’s okay!

Cess: I also am glad your intended is okay. One of my friends recently had to spend a morning in a clinic. The reason was because the rest of the folks in his dorm thought it would be a good idea to use cleaning solution undiluted–which, of course, the warning on the bottle says not to do.

I’m thinking maybe that could be the problem at the Smoothie King, also. Folks too dumb to follow directions thereby hurting other folks.

BTW, Smoothie King?

And I’m NOT including your future spouse in the “too dumb” category. It appears he’s the only one there with sense–after all, he’s engaged to you, right!

Monty, I wish I could think that it was an accident, but it wasn’t that someone stupid cleaned the ice machine with undiluted bleach. First of all, Carl and the other guy there are the ones who clean the ice machine, and they hadn’t done it yet that day. Secondly, somebody poured the bleach directly into a bin full of ice. I’m afraid that this was an act of malice by a disgruntled worker who has not yet been caught.
Yeah, I know. My fiancé works (worked) at Smoothie King. He took the job because he was desperate, but he’s quitting after this. Not only was he put in danger, but the management does not really care. They were neglectful in leaving the storage room open all day, and they did not want him to see a doctor. I can’t figure out why not, he isn’t suing or anything.

PS, thanks for your concern guys.

Hmmm…he gets injured on the job site and the first concern of the management is “you’re not going to sue, right?”

Fuck that. I’d sue for that alone!

Poured into a bin of ice? Now I’m confused.

If the ice is just sitting there in an insulated chest (like that which is found in many hotels), then the liquid bleach would have poured to the bottom. It would not have frozen onto the ice or onto the bottom (the chest itself is not a freezing unit). And the chest should have been stinking of chlorine as a clue to any user.

If you mean poured into the plumbing of the machine, and the machine made it into ice, then that’s very unusual, too. Most of these machines are hooked into a water pipe and there is not easy way to pour bleach into the plumbing of that kind of machine. But even then, the melting bleach cubes in the chest should have given any user a powerful whiff of chlorine as a warning.

Now, if it was a chest with a freezing unit, the ice is usually not free-standing. Freezing units tend to make ice stick to each other. Pouring bleach on such ice would make the chlorine freeze onto the ice (somewhat, since room temperature bleach would mostly drip to the bottom and freeze there). But then the ice would be sticking to each other too much to use.

The other option is to have bagged ice in a chest with a freezing unit. (The bags keep the ice sticking to each other – although, not to the cubes in the same bag.) But how can you get bleach into that?

Could you be a little more specific about what exactly was ‘bleach’ – the cubes themselves or frozen bleach on the cubes? Was it poured into the bin or into the plumbing of the machine and made into ice?


I have no idea, moriah. I just know that he made a pitcher of smoothie; he drank some and a customer had some. The customer said that it tasted funny. Carl tasted it, realized it tasted like bleach. He put a chlorine strip in the ice machine, and it read a very large amount of the stuff. That’s all I know.


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The management is showing a shocking lack of concern about this incident. They should be worried about 1) the fact that someone apparently intentionally poisoned some of their food (were the police informed?), 2) the possibility of being sued by Carl of the customer, and 3) the possible bad publicity if this becomes public knowledge (and Marvin Zindler would jump on this story with both feet).

I have the priviledge of being in Houston so:

  1. Where is this Smoothie King?

  2. I have actually spent a month at the Ben Taub Emergency Room through Baylor College of Medicine. The danger of bleach poisoning is the damage to the stomach and esophagus mucosa, leading to bleeding and loss of fluid and proteins through the damaged membranes. Interestingly enough, HOCl (hypochlorite), or bleach, is also made by our white blood cells to kill bacteria.

You know, that’s what I think, too. Where are the police? Why aren’t they uspet about this? HELLO?
I don’t think the customer would sue, though. He only had one sip before passing it back to Carl saying it tasted funny. Sigh. He had Carl take several sips trying to taste something other than raspberries before he said, “Doesn’t it taste like bleach?”

At the Q gym on Post Oak.
(Are ya coming to a Houston meeting, huh? Huh?)

Carl went back to work on Friday (I was so mad; I just wanted him to quit!). He told all of the customers that it was his last day, and that he was really a computer tech. He actually got a few job offers from it!


Why sex is better than religion: No need to rest on Sundays!

You really need a lawyer from Texas to tell you what Texas law is on all this. Cessandra requested some general info, though, and I’m posting it in light of other comments on this thread about potential lawsuits.

Please note the usual disclaimers; that I am not licensed in Texas, we have no attorney-client relationship, and that I am not attempting to practice law, but only to give you information to allow you to follow up with a Texas lawyer and be able to ask the right questions, etc.

Generally speaking, I don’t think that Carl has a civil cause of action against his employer. Based just on what I’ve read here, it seems to me that his proper remedy is worker’s compensation. Worker’s comp will pay all the medical bills associated with an on-the-job injury, and also pay at least something toward lost earnings for time off work due to the injury. Because this was an on-the-job injury, most WC systems provide this type of no-fault compensation, and prohibit a civil lawsuit against an employer.

I’m assuming that Carl has made such a claim, and that his bills are being picked up by Smoothie King’s WC insurance carrier. If he hasn’t (and frankly, his manager should have made sure that he did, and should have already placed the carrier on notice of this injury), then Carl should IMMEDIATELY contact his manager and advise that he wants to make such a claim. If the manager refuses, Carl needs to take it up to higher levels of management.

In California, if an employer is wilfully uninsured for WC, the employee then may sue in court, and can collect certain additional damages based on the fact of uninsurance. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case in Texas too. Many lawyers are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the WC system, and so if you find it necessary to talk to a Texas lawyer you should look for someone who has experience with it. Call your local bar association and ask for a referral.

I doubt that they will catch the jerk that did this, but if they did Carl could certainly sue him too.

At any rate, make sure that Carl makes a claim with Worker’s Comp, and then see where it goes from there.


Melin, I’d agree that Worker’s Comp would be the general source of payment to Carl, but I feel there is still the possibility of a lawsuit. Cessandra didn’t go into the details but she implied that there have been other incidents and that the management has been ignoring them. Depending on the specific, Carl could have a claim that they endangered his health by their negligence. I’m not advocating a lawsuit be filed, but judging from what Cessandra wrote, the management of this place needs to take this a lot more seriously. The police should definitely be called in if they haven’t already.