Taco Bell said the taco shells licked by an employee in a viral photo were not served to customers as part of training for a new product and "were in the process of being thrown out," but the employee has been fired.
The product is presumably Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, which were released in March. A photo of a man in uniform in a Taco Bell restaurant is seen licking a stack of about 30 taco shells.
"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," Taco Bell said in a statement on its website. "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."
The company, owned by Yum! Brands!, said it is continuing its investigation and the franchisee is cooperating fully.
Here's more about the Taco Bell photo and six other examples of fast food mayhem that were posted to the Internet.
quicklist: category: Taco Bell title: Irresistible Taco Shells media: 19313870 text:
The photo of the lickable stack of taco shells was posted to Taco Bell's Facebook page on Sunday.
The company, whose sales have skyrocketed in the last year because of its Doritos Locos tacos, said the taco shells were "absolutely not" served to customers.
"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," the company said on Monday on its website. "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."
A spokesman said the company has not disclosed information about the store location.
"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 company said on its website. "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."
quicklist: category: KFC title: Irresistible Mashed Potatoes media: 19313352 text: Earlier this year, an employee of KFC in Johnson City, Tenn., was fired after posting a photo on Facebook of her appearing to lick, or close to licking, a pile of mashed potatoes.
KFC said customers did not receive those potatoes, but the worker who took the photo and the pictured employee were fired. The corporate office also sent to that restaurant a quality assurance team after the incident to "reinforce" the company's standards.
"Nothing is more important to KFC than food safety," according to a statement provided to The Johnson City Press in February. "As soon as our franchisee became aware of the issue, immediate action was taken. The franchisee's investigation confirmed the photos were taken after the restaurant was closed and none of the food was served. The employee involved was immediately terminated."
A spokesman for Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, declined to comment further to ABC News.
quicklist: category: Burger King title: 'Lettuce' Stand for Cleanliness media: 19313457 text: Last summer, a photo of a Burger King employee standing in two containers of lettuce was posted on online bulletin 4Chan, with the words: "this is the lettuce you eat at Burger King."
Internet users tracked the photo to a restaurant in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, leading Burger King to fire three employees who were involved. The company said the restaurant in question "is independently owned and operated by a Burger King franchisee," the Los Angeles Times reported.
A statement from the company said Burger King has "stringent food handling procedures," as reported previously by ABC News. "Food safety is a top priority at all Burger King restaurants and the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy against any violations such as the one in question."
Burger King did not respond to a request from ABC News.
quicklist: category: Taco Bell title: Worker Urinates, Tweets Photo media: 19313447 text:
Also last summer, a Taco Bell employee in Fort Wayne, Ind. tweeted a photo of himself urinating on a plate of nachos, tagged "#pissolympics," "#nacobellgrande," and "guess where I work".
Though the employee pointed out that the food was thrown away, he was fired.
The Allen County Health Department said workers at that location would be given mandatory training, Indiana News Center reported.
Taco Bell said it took the incident seriously:
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and team members," Taco Bell said, as reported by the Indiana News Center. "We have strict food handling procedures and zero tolerance for any violations. As soon as we learned of the situation, we immediately investigated and found the photo was an ill-conceived prank and the food was never served to customers. We find this prank absolutely unacceptable, and we plan to terminate anyone involved and work with authorities to pursue legal action."
Taco Bell declined to comment further to ABC News about this incident.
quicklist: category: McDonald's title: McD's Worker Spits in Customers' Drinks media: text: In April 2012, a McDonald's worker in South Carolina was allegedly caught by surveillance video spitting in two customers' cups of iced tea and arrested, the Associated Press reported.
A spokesman for the Greenville County police told ABC News the charges were dismissed but declined to elaborate.
Customers had reportedly brought the drinks back to the counter because they were not sweet enough. After tasting their new drinks, the customers said they discovered phlegm when adding more sugar because the drinks were still not sweet enough, the AP reported.
The owner of the McDonald's restaurant said he follows stringent food safety procedures and "asked people not to reach conclusions until all the facts come out," the AP reported.
McDonald's did not respond to a request for comment.
quicklist: category: Domino's title: Domino's Worker's Creative Video Captures Food Tampering media: 7354786 text: Back in April 2009, an employee of Domino's pizza shared a video online of another worker putting cheese up his nose, blowing mucous on a sandwich and putting a sponge intended to wash dishes between his buttocks.
The worker said none of the food was delivered and the video was a hoax, but the employees involved were fired.
Domino's said it immediately contacted the franchise owner, re-staffed the restaurant, and posted an apology on YouTube featuring then President Patrick Doyle, who later became CEO in 2010.
"We sincerely apologize for this incident," said Doyle. "We thank members of the online community who quickly alerted us and allowed us to take immediate action."
A spokesman for Domino's said that looking back four years ago, the incident "was a flash in the pan; a well-publicized annoyance more than it was a global reputation crisis."
"It lives on mainly as a PR and crisis communication case study. Our brand, even at the time, was much too strong to be brought down by the errant act of two misguided individuals. It is even stronger today," he said.
He said Domino's ended the 2009 year with positive same store sales and has reported annual positive sales growth from 2009 through 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.
The spokesman said the company learned "the combined power of social media AND being truthful and honest in your approach to issues. Because we confronted this head-on and didn't try to hide from it or ignore, we got people's respect."
quicklist: category: Burger King title: Burger King Bath Time media: 19313494 text: A Burger King employee who was recorded in an online video taking a bath in the restaurant utility sink plus another involved employee were fired in Xenia, Ohio, in 2008.
In the video, the worker called himself, "Mr. Unstable."
The Associated Press reported the sink was sterilized by the time a health inspector went to the restaurant. Burger King did not respond to a request for comment.
"We have sanitized the sink and have disposed of all other kitchen tools and utensils that were used during the incident. We have also taken appropriate corrective action on the employees that were involved in this video," said Burger King, as reported by Whiotv.com.
In Photos: Over-the-Top Fast Food Creations