Agency takes lye from Chinese restaurant after kids sickened

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LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — State health inspectors said Tuesday they were testing crystal lye taken from a Chinese buffet where two children were severely sickened after drinking what they believed to be apple juice.

A Department of Agriculture inspection found violations but no imminent health threat at the Star Buffet and Grill near Lancaster.

Authorities said they were working to determine what caused burn-type injuries to the mouths and throats of a 10-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl at the restaurant on Friday evening. A Penn State Health spokeswoman said Tuesday the children remained in a Hershey hospital, listed in good condition.

Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers said testing on the apple juice and other substances taken from the restaurant was expected to take a few more days. She said township officials closed the buffet on Tuesday over possible building code violations.

The restaurant's phone recording said it was not taking messages. The manager did not appear to have a listed home phone number.

Police investigators were at the hospital Tuesday and had been able to interview Chinese-speaking restaurant employees with the help of interpreters, East Lampeter Township police Lt. Robin Weaver said.

"We haven't drawn any conclusions yet," Weaver said. "Everything's still on the table."

The Department of Agriculture report from the Monday inspection said there were two boxes of crystal lye bottles in a storage area, and the inspector took an opened box for testing. A bottle of lye was found below a sushi table near a round hibachi in the restaurant, 70 miles west of Philadelphia.

Lye, which can be used to cure food and make soap, is commonly found in products used to clean ovens and unclog drains.

Police said the 4-year-old girl and the 10-year-old boy, at the restaurant for a birthday party, suffered blistering and were vomiting. A 6-year-old boy experienced stomach discomfort, and an adult who tasted the liquid but did not swallow it needed medical help as well.

Manager Steve Weng said Monday the apple juice was poured into disposable cups from a half-gallon bought at a local grocery store.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine's online listing for lye poisoning says it can cause severe burning and pain to the mouth, throat and stomach and lead to bloody vomiting. Authorities have not concluded lye poisoning caused the injuries.

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