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Olive Garden Syphilis Hoax

Email claims that a girl developed Syphilis in her mouth after eating semen-contaminated food at an Olive Garden restaurant in West Des Moines, Iowa (Full commentary below).


Example:(Submitted, July 2007)
Subject: Fw: This is really gross!!!

A girl I work with and her friend went to Olive Garden this weekend; I believe Thursday or Friday night. Amber's friend did not get what she ordered correctly so she sent the food back. Sunday she woke up and had red bumps all over inside her mouth. She went to the doctor and after many questions and food allergy tests she brought in what she had ate (she had left overís at home) the doctor tested it.

The food tested positive for three different types of semen, Amberís friend had Syphilis in her mouth from the food at Olive Garden here in WDSM

This email forward tell the sickening tale of a woman who developed Syphilis in her mouth after eating food that had been deliberately contaminated with "three different types of semen". According to the message, during a visit to the Olive Garden restaurant in West Des Moines, Iowa, the woman sent her meal back to the kitchen because it was not what she ordered. Two days later, the woman developed a rash inside her mouth that was diagnosed as Syphilis. Subsequent testing of leftover food from her Olive Garden meal revealed semen, apparently added to the food by kitchen staff in retaliation for her complaint.

However, the information in the message is nothing more than a malicious rumour that has no basis in fact. The Iowa Department of Public Health and Olive Garden have declared the story as false. According to an article about the hoax email published on, Iowa state health officials stated that "the Olive Garden has a clean record and that there is no cause for concern". In the article, state epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk notes:
"You could just look at it and say, 'Gee, I think some teenager sat around and tried to make up the grossest story they could make up and this is what they came up with,'"
Moreover, reliable information about syphilis indicates that it would normally take a lot longer than two or three days before sores actually appeared. A CDC Fact Sheet about syphilis notes:
The primary stage of syphilis is usually marked by the appearance of a single sore (called a chancre), but there may be multiple sores. The time between infection with syphilis and the start of the first symptom can range from 10 to 90 days (average 21 days). The chancre is usually firm, round, small, and painless. It appears at the spot where syphilis entered the body. The chancre lasts 3 to 6 weeks, and it heals without treatment. However, if adequate treatment is not administered, the infection progresses to the secondary stage.
This version of the rumour is just the latest in a series of similar, and equally baseless, tales that have targeted Olive Garden restaurants and other eateries since at least 1989. Stories of contaminated restaurant and takeaway food have become a part of contemporary folklore. There are a variety of such rumours, including HIV contaminated blood added to fast food ketchup containers, rat served as chicken in Chinese eateries, rat urine on soda cans and many more.

Malicious tales such as these are far from harmless. They can unfairly damage the reputation of businesses that have done no wrong. They spread unnecessary alarm within communities. And they can waste the time of health department staff who must field endless enquiries about such foolish stories.

Olive Garden Syphilis E-Mail Is Urban Legend
Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet
Secret Sauce
Food in Folklore
HIV Infected Blood in the Ketchup Hoax
Rat served in Asian Restaurant Hoax
Leptospirosis Death Warning - Rat Urine on Soda Can Top
Diner Contracts Syphilis at Olive Garden Restaurant

Last updated: 20th July 2007
First published: 20th July 2007

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen

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