A 1-in-a-million freak condiment-related accident
Credit: photo by cbarnesphotography via getty images

It’s 7:40 a.m. on a Sunday. Your head pounds; your mouth is dry. You roll out of bed in search of water and ibuprofen. In the kitchen, something catches your eye: Smart-late-night-drunk-you, which is actually dumb-you, decided to hook hungover-you up by leaving out an egg and cheese sandwich, globs of ketchup oozing from the sides. You carelessly shove it into your mouth with all the energy you can muster and crawl back to bed. Little did you notice that a small Heinz ketchup packet had errantly slipped between that sliced roll. And thus begins your six-year-long nightmare of stomach pain!

OK, that’s not a true story, but it comes with a very true warning. In a recently released BMJ Case Report, doctors revealed the tale of a 41-year-old woman who spend six years believing she had Crohn’s Disease—the inflammatory bowel disorder that causes symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea—before surgery removed a mass that was discovered “to contain two pieces of plastic bearing the word ‘Heinz’ on them.”

In short, she appeared to have accidentally swallowed at least parts of a Heinz ketchup packet. Once the packet pieces were removed, her symptoms subsided. “To our knowledge, this is the first report of synthetic plastic packaging causing ileo-caecal junctional perforation mimicking Crohn’s disease,” the report states.

Importantly, the report also states, “The patient had no recent recollection of consuming a meal involving the product found intraoperatively,” which, frankly, somehow makes the whole thing so much more bizarre. This woman either needs to work on her memory, or her eating habits, or this whole thing was a very freak accident.

Now, sure, this crazy story has all the makings of a one-out-of-every-seven-billion-people-type occurrence. Still, it leaves some very real and noteworthy possibilities. First, never say you can’t accidentally ingest a ketchup packet… because it actually happened… at least once. This isn’t to say you need to go checking and double-checking every burger, fry and chicken sandwich you eat for errant ketchup packet pieces. No, don’t let the paranoia win.

However, this story should provide you with a newfound respect for the ketchup packet, proving that they hold powers beyond the ability to simply provide pocket-size servings of ketchup that won’t leak inside your jeans. Next time you grab a handful of condiment packets from that giant metal thing at the quick service eatery, remember that these sachets can do good, but they are also capable of great evil. Yield them with care. And maybe, if you suddenly realize that you’ve taken a few too many, place them back within whatever that metal bowl thing is called, lest one seek its revenge by giving you six years of abdominal pain.