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Taco Bell employee licking photo explained

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

Taco Bell has issued a statement in response to a social media storm after its Facebook page was flooded with photos that show a store employee licking a stack of taco shells.

The Fast Food giant, owned by Yum! Brands, says that the incident was part of an internal contest that went bad.

Taco Bell initially posted a reply to one person who uploaded a copy of the photo with: "We have spoken with the restaurant and confirmed that the shells were never served to customers. This is completely unacceptable and we are taking the appropriate action against everyone involved."

Taco Bell did not explain how it knew the shells were not served to customers.  It also did not disclose where the restaurant was located.

One visitor to the Facebook page, Matthew Snider, responded:  "Yes, I understand this "could" be considered an isolated incident but who are we kidding? Its fast food run by mostly high school kids whom most have no morals or ethics let alone little hygiene concern for the patron."

An LJ Rhodes asked, "So, if y'all watch video surveillance to see what happened to the licked shells, and it shows that they were indeed sold to customers, are you going to admit as much, or are you going to claim they were thrown in the trash no matter what you discover?"

Later, Taco Bell issued a statement saying, in part:  "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."

It added:  "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."

Taco Bell had temporarily disabled the ability for people to post images to its Facebook page.

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