On Sept. 7, senior Kelsey Coyne purchased a sub sandwich, a bag of chips and a drink from Subway on Grand River Ave in East Lansing.
When she walked back to her car, she took a bite of her sandwich and noticed a "foul" smell. She attributed the smell to the parking lot she was in and decided to continue eating at home. When she realized that the smell had followed her home, she noticed a brown substance on the wrapping paper of her sandwich, which she said might have been feces.
“I first just sat back and stared at it for what felt like an hour,” Coyne said. “Immediately afterwards, I washed my hands and was trying to get my roommate to come look at it too, because I'm like, ‘okay, if it's just me, if it's just in my head, if she can tell me something else, then I can let it go real quick.'"
Coyne then took pictures of her wrapper and sent them to her sister for further confirmation and placed the sandwich in a cooler on her porch. The next morning, Coyne reached out to the East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, to get the substance sampled.
ELPD Captain Chad Pride said a brachial swab of the sandwich was taken, and their law enforcement partners were contacted to see if that was something that they would analyze. Their partners suggested a third-party company to analyze the sample.
“Currently the investigation has been sent to our detective bureau for further follow-up on the incident,” Pride said. “After our detective bureau does all of their investigation, they will make the determination if that brachial swab will then be analyzed.”
Pride said that the original officer who took the complaint reached out to the public health department. Coyne has also been in contact with the Ingham County Health department, who advised her to put the sandwich in a bag and surround it with ice.
The Ingham County Health Department, or ICHD, health communications specialist Victoria Coykendall said that the ELPD investigated the initial complaint and reviewed video footage to determine the source of the substance. ICHD was made aware of the situation shortly afterwards and opened a food safety complaint.
“The ICHD did not receive or test samples to determine the source of the substance, therefore no report from the ICHD is available,” Coykendall said. “The ICHD, upon the recommendations from the ELPD, has closed its complaint on the case and no further action from the health department is being taken at this time.”
Coyne is aware that the ELPD was able to get the security footage from the time she was in the store. Coyne said that on Friday, Sept. 9, the ELPD was not looking investigate the situation further.
“They looked at the video footage and he told me, ‘I think this is about when you were in there. We can't really tell much from the video,’” Coyne said. “Everything he was saying was very loose. He was like, ‘Oh, (the worker) is eating before it, so it could just be cookies, and I don't think there's malicious intent, so we're going to close the investigation.'”
On that day, Coyne posted a video to TikTok which collected 2.1 million views by the time of publication. In the video, she explains what happened and asks for advice on her situation.
Coyne said she wanted to gain some traction in order for Subway to reach out and try to come up with a solution. She said ELPD told her she would have to pay to get a sample tested, so she was hoping to streamline the process.
“I just wanted to find out right away what it is,” Coyne said. “I'm still nauseous and not able to eat, so I'm trying to figure out ways to get this done and over with so I can have peace of mind.”
Subway spokesperson Carsen Anderson said in an email to the State News that health and food safety is taken extremely seriously. He said as soon as the restaurant was made aware of the situation, the franchise worked with local authorities, including the police and health department, to look into the alleged claim.
“On Monday, Sept. 12, the local health department released its inspection report, concluding that the remnants seen on the sandwich wrapper were chocolate from a cookie and the case has since been closed,” Anderson said in an email.
Coyne said that she was rubbed the wrong way when told that the substance on the wrapper was a cookie. Had she been told it was something else, such as old marinara sauce, she said she would be more likely to believe it.
“The smell, the texture, what it looks like -- it's not (a cookie)," Coyne said.
Pride said if they are found to be dealing with adulterated food, an individual could be charged with a crime if ELPD has enough probable cause.
“It’s one of those things where we collect all the facts and data and send it to the prosecutor’s office and they’re the ones that make the determination if they should charge this or not,” Pride said.
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On Sept. 9, Coyne reached out to ASMSU’s student legal services to connect with a lawyer to help deal with the issue of payment. Coyne said she was told by ASMSU that she would need to find a separate attorney who specializes in injury and claims. ASMSU’s department declined to comment.
As of Sept. 12, Coyne was told that the Michigan State Police, or MSP, could not test the sample and that the detectives are looking for a third party to do so.
Coyne said she does not want to place blame on the Subway workers who were there that night, since she knows that it could have been an accident. However, she described her interaction with the workers as "off-putting."
"They made the comment, 'When our manager is not here, we can do whatever the hell we want,'" Coin said. “When you go back and you think about that, that's when I'm a little bit suspicious."
Coyne said that it took her three times to get in contact with Subway's corporate office. Once she did, she was told because this happened at a franchise, it is not the company’s issue.
Coyne said her next steps will be getting in contact with the third-party lawyer recommended to her by ASMSU and hopefully sending a new sample out to a third-party lab. Her desire, she said, has never been to get money from the situation.
“I’m hoping to get it tested. That’s my end goal,” Coyne said. “I just really want it to be over with.”
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