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Rumor: HIV+ Blood in Ketchup Dispenser

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Netlore Archive: Hoax email advises fast-food consumers not to use ketchup (catsup) unless it's provided in sealed packets because a man was supposedly caught placing HIV-tainted blood in a restaurant ketchup dispenser.

Description: Email hoax / Rumor
Circulating since: Oct. 2004
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Example:
Email text contributed by Alvin S., Oct. 6, 2004:

Subject: Warning!!!
Importance: High

Scary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SEND THIS TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. PEOPLE ARE SICK.

This is something you may want to take note of: ONLY USE KETCHUP FROM THE PACKET IN FAST FOOD OUTLETS!!

A man was caught placing blood in the ketchup dispenser at a fast food outlet (to remain unnamed) within the last month. It is believed that he is HIV+.

So be sure to let your friends/family know...only use items that come in a closed packet.


Analysis: It's probably no coincidence that this 2004 email hoax surfaced just before Halloween, a holiday we've come to associate, correctly or not, with food tampering.

Nor is it likely a coincidence that the incident described above allegedly happened at a fast food restaurant. Urban legendry is rife with such tales, testifying to our conflicted feelings about the ubiquity of fast food and gigantic corporate restaurant chains in general.

The charge that someone knowingly contaminated a condiment dispenser with HIV also smacks of existing urban legends about miscreants spreading the AIDS virus on purpose — stories which, though for the most part false, bespeak our collective fear of this deadly, worldwide epidemic.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a search for recent news items confirming that someone was caught in the act of adulterating condiments with HIV-positive blood produced zero results. With its uncorroborated claims, shameless fear-mongering, and motifs lifted from existing folklore, this warning bears all the hallmarks of a hoax.

Besides which, medical scientists say HIV/AIDS is not a food-borne disease. This is from the Centers for Disease Control:

No incident of food being contaminated with HIV-infected blood or semen has been reported to CDC. Furthermore, CDC has received no reports of HIV infection resulting from eating food, including condiments.

HIV does not live long outside the body. Even if small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen was consumed, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus. Therefore, there is no risk of contracting HIV from eating food.

Think about it. If such a thing had really happened and truly posed a threat to public health, would you have learned about it first in an anonymous, forwarded email?

Update: In 2007 and 2008, a slightly revised version of the hoax claiming that someone was seen placing HIV+ blood in tomato sauce packets at a Wimpy restaurant circulated in South Africa. Read more...

News updates:

Bogus Email Triggers HIV Ketchup Scare in Bermuda
Urban Legends, 18 October 2004

HIV Ketchup Email a Hoax, Officials Say
Times Record (Ft. Smith, Arkansas), 27 April 2007

HIV Blood in Ketchup Report False, Says Alabama AG
Decatur Daily News, 1 January 2006

Sources and further reading:

Fact Sheet: HIV and Its Transmission
Centers for Disease Control

Last updated: 11/26/08

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