Fish Bone Ethics: A Poll

My tuna sandwich had an unwelcome bonus: a 3/4 inch, two-pronged bone. It stuck me in the gums. No blood drawn, but I expect better from my usual brand of white albacore in water.

Now what? I have encountered negligently included matter in foodstuffs before, nothing large or horrible, like the famous human toe in the plug  of chewing tobacco often cited as a perfect illustration of “res ipsa loquitur”. (The Mississippi Supreme Court: we can “imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.”) In such cases I have just let it go, taking a Golden Rule approach. After all, some stuff is bound to slip through now and then. Yes, I made a big deal when I found a bug in my salad, but the occasional small hair, or bit of bone, I let pass.

This one was different, though. It was  bigger, and the damn thing stuck me.

So should I send the tuna fish company the bone and complain? If I do, what’s the objective? Is it to extort a lucky haul by getting the company to send a life supply of tuna fish? I know people that send in such complaints several times a year, often with spectacular results. They specialize in writing indignant, angry letters full of implied threats. These people like finding bones in their tuna fish. The problem is, I don’t like them.

Is it a matter of good citizenship to tell the company that some of their cans have bones along with the fish? Can I save another consumer from a stuck gum and a spoiled sandwich experience by alerting the company to a problem in their processing? It probably is good citizenship, except that I’m pretty sure that renegade fish bones are a well-known inevitability in the tuna fish business.

The question, then: what’s the ethical course?

24 thoughts on “Fish Bone Ethics: A Poll

  1. Jack you state, “These people like finding bones in their tuna fish. The problem is, I don’t like them.”

    The bones or the people?

    I say let it slide if it is a one off as you say. The Golden Rule is your friend here.

  2. I voted for ‘Report it, without any hint’ because the company may have a real problem. Just let them know (and keep the bone for if they ask for it)

    Gold digging is unethical

  3. However, I wrote without thinking. I assume this is the first time it’s happened. Once, maybe twice, maybe even three times in a lifetime, no problem, but company quality control needs to know when it happens. On the flip side 2 or 3 times a month is just slipshod processing, and veiled threats are probably not enough.

  4. As far as I’m concerned, if there was no need for medical attention due to the product then reporting it is a public service and a civic responsibility.

    I make reports similar to this when the something comes up and I make it very clear up front that I do not want and will not accept anything in return, the purpose it to inform them that they may have an unknown problem with their product. I’ve actually had to return coupons to the company when they sent them to me as a result of a “complaint”. I’m very firm on this.

  5. I found a small shard of glass in a bottle of beer and reported it- I phrased it along the lines of “Hey, I have no intention of suing or anything, but I thought you might want the information in case you need to fix something or do a recall before there’s an actual problem.” They were very pleasant about it, thoroughly apologetic, and sent me a check for the purchase price of the case of beer as well as a couple of branded doohickeys.

    I’d say tell them- if that bone is within the unavoidable error rate then the worst that happens is you waste a few moments reporting an unfixable problem, otherwise you could be doing a real service.

    • Exactly – don’t we have a lot of ethics examples, even on this site, of situations where everyone’s standing around a catastrophe saying “somebody really ought to have said something…”

  6. This very thing happened to me several years ago. What I thought was an unusually large piece of Tuna bone made it into my sandwich. It did enough damage to the roof of my mouth that I could take a picture of it. I sent a picture of the damage along with the picyire of the offending bone to the manufacturer. I expressed my concern with how such a large piece could make it through processing and that I was no longer able to trust their product. I asked for a response and was soundly ignored. Not even a return email acknowledging complaint. I’m not sure what I expected back from them. I had no intention of following up legally. It left me with the impression that this is either a fairly common thing or they had a policy of ignore until you refuse to be ignored.

    • That’s the way of most companies these days, William. However, if you mention the words ‘lawyer’ and ‘press’, things change rather dramatically. Works for politicians, too.

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