State officials are trying to determine how a worker cut off part of his finger and how the severed piece wound up in a customer's ice cream at a shop that was cleared by the state after a similar accident last summer.

Clarence Stowers said he bought a pint of frozen custard at the Kohl's Frozen Custard (search) shop on Sunday and opened it at home. He saw an object in the custard and put it in his mouth, thinking it was a piece of candy, a Wilmington television station reported Monday.

"I thought it was candy because they put candy in your ice cream ... to make it a treat," Stowers told WWAY. Stowers said he spit the object out, but still couldn't identify it. He went to his kitchen, rinsed it off with water — and "just started screaming."

Unlike a recent incident at a Wendy's restaurant in California, no questions about Stowers' honesty have been raised.

Officials of the state departments of agriculture and labor went to the shop to investigate Monday, and the shop's owner confirmed that one of his employees lost part of a finger in an accident with a food-processing machine.

Last July, another Kohl's employee accidentally severed an index finger on the same machine, the Wilmington Star-News reported. The state Department of Labor (search) cleared the restaurant of wrongdoing.

The department has started an investigation of the latest incident, said department spokesman Juan Santos. He said the agency is attempting to determine whether Kohl's was in compliance with state workplace safety rules — a probe that likely will take about two weeks.

Stowers did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

The custard shop owner, Craig Thomas, told WWAY that the employee who lost the finger that Stowers found had dropped a bucket while working with a custard dispensing machine. He was trying to catch the bucket when the accident occurred.

Thomas said that as several employees tried to help the injured worker, a drive-thru window attendant apparently scooped the custard into a pint container before being told what had happened.

The Star-News of Wilmington reported that the finger was cut off at the first knuckle.

Joe Reardon of the state Agriculture Department's food and drug division said state officials closed the shop while the food-processing equipment was sanitized.

In March, a Las Vegas (search), Nev., woman claimed she bit down on a 11/2 inch-long finger fragment in a serving of chili at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, Calif. Investigators have called her claim a hoax and charged her last month with attempted grand theft related to millions in dollars of financial losses Wendy's has suffered since news of her claim broke.