LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – Three children became sick after drinking apple juice at a Lancaster County restaurant, police said.
A 4-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy had burns to their mouths and throats, and both vomited after drinking the juice Friday evening at the Star Buffet, at 2232 Lincoln Highway East. A 6-year-old boy was experiencing stomach discomfort, East Lampeter Township police said.
An adult who was with the three children also experienced burns in his mouth after tasting the juice.
The children were transported to Lancaster General Hospital for treatment. The two children with more severe reactions were upgraded to trauma patients and flown to Penn State Hershey Medical Center. They were listed in serious but stable condition but have since improved to fair condition.
The third child and the adult were released after treatment at Lancaster General.
Richard Zaragoza, the father of the 10-year-old, told ABC27 News he wasn’t there when it happened, but he said he immediately rushed to the restaurant. He said his son’s tongue was bright red and swollen.
“Do you know the color of apple juice? If you looked at it, you could tell it wasn’t apple juice,” he said. “It was a totally darker color.”
Zaragoza said his son won’t be able to eat solid foods for a week.
Investigators said the juice was served in polystyrene cups and the reactions were confined to one group of patrons. No other customers reported any reactions or discomfort.
An Agriculture Department inspector was looking into how cleaning chemicals are stored and labeled at the restaurant. Police believe an unknown caustic substance was in the juice, but they won’t know what it was until tests are complete.
“We don’t have those answers yet, but that’s what we’re trying to determine,” police Lt. Robin Weaver said. “We’re currently interviewing employees from the restaurant. The investigation has been slowed a little bit because there’s a language barrier.”
The owner told ABC27 News they’ve been buying the same apple juice for 10 years and never had any issues. He said the juice was purchased from a store earlier in the day and opened just before it was served to the children.
Investigators won’t say where it was purchased.
“We’re not releasing that yet,” Weaver said. “It’s too early in the investigation.”
The restaurant remains open. Police said they don’t have the authority to close it.