I’ve always heard vile stories about things fast food workers do to the food they serve individuals, but to actually see a photo is stomach turning.

Would you like some saliva with your taco? Why of course not.  Who would. This photo of an unidentified man was posted to Taco Bell’s Facebook page with the following statement: “This sure says a lot about your employees, food treatment and what they post on the internet.”

What the person and many news outlets didn’t know what that the photo was part of an internal employee contest. But apparently the employee who took the photo  and the taco licker went a little bit too far.

According to Time:

In the latest it-must-be-true-because-there’s-a-picture blunder, mainstream sites like Mashable and Yahoo helped stoke the collective social media uproar over a photo of a Taco Bell worker licking a towering stack of taco shells. The disturbing image, which was posted on Facebook Sunday and reportedly snapped at a Taco Bell in Ridgecrest, Calif., sparked a heated debate among commenters about whether the photo was “obviously done out of humor” and didn’t warrant “so much overreaction” or if it was just plain “irresponsible” and “defaming to the company.”

Turns out it was all a prank, albeit not one sanctioned by the chain, which has faced a series of P.R. nightmares in recent years. Soon after the photo went viral on Monday, Taco Bell suspended the employee shown licking the tacos and issued a statement explaining that the pose was meant as a joke: The picture was a submission for a photo contest calling for Taco Bell employees to show themselves enjoying the first bite of the product. The company insists the taco shells were “absolutely not” served to customers and were only used for training purposes in March.

Below is the full statement from Taco Bell:

What is the Issue?
On June 2nd, we learned of a photo circulating online illustrating a Taco Bell restaurant team member violating our food handling procedures with a stack of taco shells.

Our food handling procedures are strict and we have zero tolerance for any violations.  In the spirit of full transparency, we want to inform you of what we know in order to respond to customers’ questions on our social media channels.

How Did this Happen?
The taco shells were used for training in March before we launched a new product, and were in process of being thrown out.  Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product.  The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable.   This image was clearly unacceptable – it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it.  But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee’s policies, and it emerged online in social media.

What we did

We immediately investigated the situation and learned these facts from our franchisee.  We are continuing our investigation and our franchisee is cooperating fully.

Our first question was, were the taco shells served to customers?  In short, absolutely not.  The taco shells were sent to restaurants for training purposes before the new product launch, so team members could use them to practice making the new product before it became available to the public.   These shells were a part of that training, were never intended to be served to customers, and were discarded. This is standard operating procedure, and our franchisee confirmed this protocol.

What We’re Doing
We do not believe these employees harmed, or intended to harm, anyone.  But we deplore the impressions this has caused to our customers, fans, franchisees, and team members.  The behavior is unacceptable for people working in a restaurant.  Our franchisee is responsible for the employment and conduct of his restaurant’s employees and he has informed us that he immediately suspended the employee shown in the photo and is in the process of terminating his employment.  The employee who took the photo no longer works there.  As we complete our investigation we will work with our franchisee to implement any additional action we find appropriate to address this situation and ensure it never happens again.

It’s all fun and games in the world of Social Media, until someone gets suspended or fired. People will never learn.

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