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Gross photo of Wendy's employee goes viral

11:37 AM, Jun 13, 2013   |    comments
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Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

No, the nation's millions of fast-food workers haven't suddenly gone wacky.

But in recent days, social media images of a few fast-food workers doing pretty gross stuff with brand-name food has gone viral. The latest, an unidentified Wendy's worker at an unidentified Wendy's location, bending down with his mouth wide open under a familiar Frosty machine, as he gobbles-down the ice-creamy goop. (For those wondering, it appears to be vanilla Frosty.)

You can bet that the Wendy's worker didn't find this move - originally posted on Reddit on Wednesday - anywhere in the company's corporate training manual. (By Thursday morning,

The move comes just days after a photo went viral of an unidentified Taco Bell employee licking a stack of Taco Bell taco shells. And several years ago, a video went viral of a Domino's employee stuffing some of the company's pizza cheese up his nose - and other gross places. The image also appeared on the sites of The Consumerist and Business Insider.)

For the fast-food industry, it's all about figuring out how - in a social media age - to keep damaging images of employees doing dumb if not dangerous stuff with food from going viral. It won't be easy. At the same time, the major fast-food brands may need to re-train employees to make clear the possible public relations damage - and health and safety risks posed - by such actions.

"Fast-food companies will never be able to totally prevent this kind of thing," says Laura Ries, a brand consultant. "The majority of their workers are young adults armed with cellphones and getting paid minimum wage. It is the nature of the beast."

Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch declined on Thursday to identify the worker or the location -- but said it took place at a franchise location, probably in May.

"Obviously, the employee broke the rules," says Lynch, in an email. "He is no longer at the restaurant. The franchisee is meeting with the restaurant team to reinforce proper procedures."

How will Wendy's stop this from happening again?

"We have a daily regiment in each restaurant that stresses proper food handling procedures," says Lynch. "The manager follows a disciplined process. When mistakes happen, we try to respond immediately and take correction action."

The best companies can do is to make their employees feel valuable, and hope that workers are so mentally and emotionally committed to the company that they would never do something to hurt it, says Ries. "This isn't the case with many major brands," she says. "It is hard to feel fuzzy and committed to a brand owned by a huge equity firm."

Even then, she points out, not all fast food brands have been victimized. "You haven't seen these things at a Chick-fil-A or Chipotle, where employees are much more committed to the brand," she says.

USA TODAY

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