(USA TODAY) -- Here's a Taco Bell employee who was thinking a bit too outside the bun.
On Monday, the Consumerist, a blog that's a subsidiary of Consumer Reports,
posted a hard-to-swallow photo of a Taco Bell employee holding a long
stack of about 25 empty taco shells - while licking them with his long
tongue fully exposed.
YUCK: 'Consumerist' post about Taco Bell photo
posting - which the employee originally posted on his Facebook page,
has since gone seriously viral. The situation is eerily reminiscent of a
video from 2009 that a Domino's Pizza employee posted of another worker
putting pizza cheese into his nose and blowing mucous on a sandwich.
The unfortunate message to consumers: Unhappy fast-food employees will
do disgusting things to the food they sell.
"It's not a brand
problem - it's a brand practices problem," says Erika Napoletano, a
brand strategy consultant. "If you hire people who treat your brand as
disposable, that's the kind of PR you'll get."
To its credit, Taco Bell responded quickly.
have strict food and handling procedures and zero tolerance for any
violations," Taco Bell says in a statement. The company insists that
the franchisee - whose name and location it hasn't revealed - did not
serve the taco shells to any customers. "They were used for training
only and in the process of being thrown out," the company says.
Bell declined to specify whether the employees behind the photo were
fired. "We will not tolerate this type of behavior, and particularly its
impressions on our customers, fans, franchisees and team members." The
statement says, "We are working with the franchisee to take appropriate
action against everyone involved."
Is that enough to satisfy consumers?
not, says PR consultant Chris Ann Goddard. While the response was
rapid, she says, "Who really knows if the tacos were served or not?"
Bell will see incidents like this repeat if it doesn't change its
hiring practices, says Napoletano. "You need to hire people who hold as
much integrity for your brand as you do," she says.
need for Taco Bell to establish clearer guidelines for its workers, the
brand needs to make even more clear to consumers that this is "not a
normal occurrence," Goddard says. "People need to feel comfortable in
whatever they purchase, whether it's pudding or tacos. This picture is