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In our opinion: A rare reaction of grace

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 10:27 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 10:27 p.m. MDT

Jim Harding —whose wife, Jan, unknowingly drank a beverage contaminated with cleaning solution — and his family and friends have been models of grace, patience and compassion in dealing with the unfortunate accident.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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It is encouraging news that the woman who was severely injured when she ingested a beverage contaminated with cleaning solution is out of the hospital and on her way to recovery. While her injuries were likely the result of an accident, it was nevertheless a scary event, the kind of random mishap that could happen to any of us.

As this story has unfolded, we have been impressed by the manner in which those closest to the victim have reacted. Also impressive is the response by public health agencies, demonstrating why such incidents are so extremely rare.

There has been an outpouring of public sympathy for Jan Harding, a 67-year-old retired schoolteacher, and her husband, Jim, who was with her at a South Jordan restaurant when she sipped an ice tea beverage in which sweetening agents were laced with a powerful dose of lye. Having been thrust before the public eye as a result of tragic happenstance, Jim Harding has responded with uncommon candor, optimism and empathy.

He has not sought publicity but has accommodated the interests of the news media. He has hired a lawyer but has not threatened to file a lawsuit, preferring to wait until all the facts are in. He has welcomed the prayers on behalf of his wife and offered his own on behalf of those who were responsible for the accident.

“I’m not mad. It’s sad. We’re all sad,” Harding said in a news conference. An interim pastor at a Baptist congregation, he said he has drawn upon his faith for strength, saying, “I think this is a time to say, ‘Our faith matters.’ ”

His attitude is commendable for its lack of rancor and sincere concern that care is taken so the incident isn’t repeated. “One thing we want to come out of this is to send out a message of “be careful out there.’ … People’s lives are in your hands, so just be careful,” he said. “We’re not mad at you, just be careful.”

To that point, the incident shows why food safety regulations are important, though they may be voluminous and seemingly arcane. Restaurant managers should take note that failing to properly manage storage and handling of supplies can indeed have drastic, if not fatal, results.

Salt Lake County health inspectors were quick to react to the Harding incident, and records indicate the restaurant in question has been properly inspected and generally in compliance with the rules. This is as we expect, because the vast majority of restaurants are managed by responsible people, which is why incidents like this are so rare — as rare as the grace and compassion with which the Harding family has faced this calamity.

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