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Winn-Dixie Employee Burned by Poisoned Soda

COOPER CITY, Fla. - A deli worker at a Winn-Dixie store here was critically injured over the weekend after drinking from a soda bottle contaminated with a caustic substance. The incident is believed to be isolated, authorities said Sunday.

Santosh Malhotra, 68, of Miramar, Fla., grabbed a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Coke from a built-in refrigerator under the deli counter in an employee-only area of the Winn-Dixie store. She felt a burning sensation, immediately spit out the liquid, and vomited. Malhotra suffered chemical burns to her mouth and throat.

The store was cleared of about 60 customers and employees Saturday, and an initial test showed the presence of a potent alkali similar to a weed killer, according to an Associated Press report.

Officials said they believe it's an isolated incident. "At this point, we don't know whether she was targeted or whether someone just doctored the soda and then put it into the case," said a sheriff's department spokesman.

A spokesman at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. said, "We don't see anything in it to believe it's anything other than an isolated incident."

Winn-Dixie spokeswoman Kathy Lussier said the company wanted to get a briefing from investigators before pursuing "any necessary action."
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