Taco Bell will fire the employee who was recently shown in a photo licking a stack of tacos.
The California Taco Bell sparked outrage this week after a photo was posted online, which quickly went viral, showing the disgusting image of an employee licking the tacos as they seemingly were being prepared for customers.
The company confirmed the decision Monday in a statement on its website, saying, "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."
It has now emerged that the photo was in fact taken in March, and was taken in response to a contest. The photo was supposed to show employees enjoying a new product.
Taco Bell has since said that the photo in question was a complete violation of the spirit of the contest. The photo was not actually submitted to the contest, as the employee probably realized it was not appropriate, however, it did later find its way onto social media sites, sparking huge backlash at the fast food chain.
After the photo was posted on Facebook, Cathy Marx, the manager of the Taco Bell in Ridgecrest., Calif. told CNBC: "We're currently dealing with it."
According to CNBC the Taco Bell restaurant in question has currently been given an "A" rating from the County of Kern Public Health Services Department.
The offensive picture was posted to Facebook by an account with a username titled, "Jj O'Brien Nolan."
A company spokesperson has also emailed a statement to CNBC in response to the shocking photo: "Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and team members, and we have strict food handling procedures and zero tolerance for any violations."
The statement also added: "When we learned of the situation we immediately contacted this restaurant's leadership and although we believe it is a prank and the food was not served to customers, we are conducting a full scale investigation and will be taking swift action against those involved."
The company has told CNN that it believes the photo is simply a prank and that the tacos were not served to any customers.
Taco Bell is an American chain of fast-food restaurants, with company headquarters based in Irvine, California. The restaurant serves a variety of Tex-Mex foods including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, other specialty items, and a variety of "Value menu" items.
Taco Bell is reported to serve more than 2 billion customers each year in more than 5,800 restaurants in the U.S., more than 80 percent of which are owned and operated by independent franchisees.
Here is a video report into the shocking news: