5 Corporate Food Safety Disasters

One out of five meals eaten in the United States is enjoyed outside of the home. At work, we have food brought in so that we can work without interruption, and at home, even under harsh economic conditions, we relish the occasional opportunity to have someone else cook for us.

Whenever we eat out, we expect the highest standards of food safety to be upheld. Sometimes, however, this isn’t the case, leaving customers feeling victimized, disgusted, ill, or even worse.

In April 2009, it was discovered that two employees of a Domino’s Pizza franchise in North Carolina had uploaded videos of themselves to YouTube. In these videos, one employee was shown picking his nose, then wiping his finger on a food product which he said was destined to be sent to “some unlucky customer”. Domino’s responded swiftly as the videos began to spread like wildfire, firing both employees and filing criminal charges. This incident underscores the vigilance that corporations must maintain in the age of Web 2.0 and social media. Once a YouTube video has gone viral, it can be seen by millions of people in a matter of hours, and what once may have remained a locally isolated incident can now become national news.

Although the Domino’s incident was the first case of food tampering to make such a large public splash due to social media, it was not the first time that an employee had been accused of putting unsavory items into a food product. In 2006, a Pizza Hut restaurant in Richboro, Pennsylvania made headlines when it was closed temporarily after criminal food tampering allegations surfaced. Although the local police would not comment regarding the nature of the investigations, local news reported that there had been allegations of feces being added to pizza. Six Pizza Hut employees were fired as a result of the investigation.


Food contamination is not always the result of malicious employees, however. In 2007, Yum! Brands was greatly embarrassed when reports surfaced that a Manhattan Taco Bell/KFC franchise had become infested by rats. The franchise had a history of health code violations dating back to 2004, and the problem became far too large to ignore when rats and rat droppings were sighted in the main eating area of the restaurant. This was the second public relations fiasco for Taco Bell in as many years; they had experienced an enormous setback just the year prior, when 22 customers were infected with E. coli. The rat incident has raised public speculation about the efficacy of municipal health inspectors, as customers would rightfully like to know why a restaurant that had been censured for safety violations was allowed to remain open for so many years after receiving continued citations.

This wasn’t the first incident of restaurant customers being poisoned because of a lack of attention to detail. In 2003, over 300 customers of a Chili’s franchise located in Vernon Hills, Illinois were infected by salmonella bacteria. An investigation uncovered the fact that the salmonella outbreak resulted in large part due to fecal contamination from employees who were not washing their hands. The restaurant was permanently closed in May, 2004.

Sometimes, an entire restaurant chain can be crushed because of an incident that is caused by a supplier, rather than the acts or omissions of its employees. In 2003, the largest Hepatitis A outbreak in US history was traced back to onions that had been served at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania. At least 660 incidents and four deaths were reported as a result of this outbreak. Although Chi-Chi’s was already struggling financially by 2003, it would have been impossible for any restaurant to recover from the complete collapse of consumer confidence resulting from this outbreak. In 2004, drained of all its remaining cash reserves, Chi-Chi’s was forced to sell all of its restaurant properties to Outback Steakhouse.


When you eat out, take the time to read the reports from your local health department. This information will keep you informed when restaurants fail to uphold the proper standards of cleanliness. An educated decision is a smart one.

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