Taco Bell, the largest U.S. Mexican fast food chain and host of several E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks via lettuce, said that a franchisee has suspended — and “is in the process of terminating” — the restaurant employee whose photo showing him licking a stack of empty taco shells went viral earlier this week. The person who took the photo no longer works for Taco Bell.
According to USA Today, red-faced Taco Bell executives had to try to explain to a skeptical public the circumstances behind the embarrassing photo. On Monday, the franchisee informed Taco Bell corporate that both employees were no longer with Taco Bell.
Never mind that the shells were never sold, but were only provided for workers to practice making the new line of Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos. The shells were thrown out after use. “This is standard operating procedure and our franchisee confirmed this protocol,” says Taco Bell’s statement.
But many consumers viewing the photo had to think otherwise. So Taco Bell had to act quickly. “One of the smartest things a brand can do is to respond as quickly and intelligently as possible,” says Erika Napoletano, a brand strategy consultant.
The photo was taken way back in March at a Taco Bell restaurant in Ridgecrest, Calif., north of Los Angeles It was taken for an internal contest to supposedly show employees enjoying their first bite of the new product. Things went haywire when the photo, which was never submitted for the contest, ending up being posted on the employee’s Facebook page.
Not only was this a violation of company policy, but the worker also violated Taco Bell’s food handling procedures, the company says.