"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. "
According to the release, the taco shells in the photo were not served to customers. The shells were reportedly being used for training purposes and were in the 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," said the release. "This image was clearly unacceptable -- it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it."
The Irvine-based company added that an investigation was launched as soon as the franchise learned of the situation. They claimed Taco Bell has strict food handling procedures and that they have zero tolerance for violations.
According to the release, the restaurant will continue to investigate the matter as they work with the franchise to implement any additional action necessary to prevent this sort of incident from happening in the future.