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YUM Brands Will Have To Do Better Than Mea Culpa for Taco Bell

Posted by: David Kiley on March 2, 2007


About the video of rats running wild in a New York City Taco Bell, Yum Brands president Emil Brolick said: “We have taken what has happened in New York very seriously.” The statement was made in a videotaped message posted on the company’s KFC and Taco Bell websites.

“We apologize to our customers and want to reassure them that we have been working around the clock to prevent this from happening again. We have engaged Dr. Robert (Bobby) Corrigan to thoroughly and independently review the application of the high standards we require of our operators in New York City. Dr. Corrigan is a renowned expert in the area of pest control in challenging urban environments and we look forward to his review.”

The incident captured on video merely confirmed what most of us know. Despite the little certificates of cleanliness posted in fast-food joints, sanitation in eateries is something we’re better off not knowing about. Only now we do.

The video broadcast on television and the Net a week ago showed rats running wild at a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant just one day after the outlet had passed a city Health Department inspection. Shocking! A complacent health inspector. In New York City even?

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant kitchen knows that vermin is a fact of life. Where there is food and low-wage workers, there are rats and mice. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant and hasn’t carried a mouse out of a walk-in fridge…raise your hand! if you raised your hand, then you weren’t really working.

“I would worry much more about poor hygiene on the part of employees of a restaurant than mice or rats living in the basement,” said Philip Alcabes, a professor at New York’s Hunter College School of Health Sciences in a Reuters story. Oh that’s much better! I feel good now.

“If you were to ask me would I eat in a restaurant where there were rats, I would say I probably already do.”

If the people working fast food (and I used to be one) were really so conscientious, why do they need a sign in the bathroom reminding them to wash their hands before going back to work. One would wish it was common sense and decency.

Nobody likes to think of rats and restaurants in the same sentence. But as I scan the Net for news, I keep seeing Taco Bell and KFC in digital headlines with the words…”Pests” “Rats” “Rodents.” That can’t be good for business.

On Friday, Yum shares closed at $56.51, down from 59.22 on Monday. But that’s in line with the dip in the overall market this week. That means that Wall Street, which haas its own problems with rats this week, isn’t making a big deal out if it, at least until same-store results for Taco Bell and KFC come out.

I have to say…I will be shocked if there isn’t some fallout. That image of rats running wild in the kitchen after hours, and the site of Jay Leno holding a faux Chalupa with a rat tail hanging out of it as it was wriggling in is hand…put me off fast-food for a long time.

I invite any readers who have worked at restaurants to post their horror stories here on my blog.

Reader Comments

Anthony Barba

March 2, 2007 5:49 PM

The good thing that has come out of rat-gate is that people have forgotten about the Taco Bell E. coli breakout a few months ago.


March 5, 2007 9:54 AM

Way back in high school I worked summers with food services at an amusement park. I won't say which one. I fondly recall a "health inspection" at one of our cafeterias. The inspector got as far as the absolutely disgusting sink by the door before a manager kindly asked to speak to him privately. The inspector never returned, but we had a spiffy new health certificate up on the wall the very next day. Go figure.

Josh Healan

March 5, 2007 12:54 PM

Two stories, I'll make them quick. I worked in a grocery store as a kid, managing the produce section. If only people knew what usually accompanies the shipments of exotic fruit that comes in from outside the country. We usually open the crates with some form of trap in hand.

But worse was when my favorite Chinese restaurant was busted with cats, a goat, and 12 pigoens being prepared and served as chicken. I knew that chicken didn't taste like chichen.

Mary Schmidt

March 7, 2007 3:40 PM

Frankly, I'd prefer rats to cockroaches. In high school I worked in a Dairy Queen where the cockroaches were epidemic. In fact, I wouldn't eat anything there that wasn't pre-packaged and stored in metal. Even worse though was our sewage problem. There was a problem in the lines so about every 15 minutes one of us would have to go out to the parking lot and hit the pump to draw sewage up out of the open manhole and down the side of the parking lot. Otherwise, it'd back up into the restaurant. The amazing thing was none of our customers ever seemed to notice the mess in the parking lot (and it was readily identifiable as just what it was. Yechhhhh)


December 18, 2007 8:07 AM

Are you kidding me?? this statement is crazy! "Anyone who has worked in a restaurant and hasn’t carried a mouse out of a walk-in fridge…raise your hand! if you raised your hand, then you weren’t really working." I've been in the restaurant business for 18 years and I've never, never had to deal with rats!


January 22, 2008 7:24 AM

Some pretty big blanket statements here. I'm a Taco Bell manager working my way through college. I dine out often and so when I'm in charge I run the business like I would want a business to be run when I'm looking for a good place to eat. In the 3+ years I've been with the company I've not seen a single rat or mouse anywhere between the two restaurants I've managed. As for the low wage employees, they have little to do with pest control. It is the responsibility of the general manager (not so low wage in my area) to keep in touch with the pest control company who regularly comes out to look for signs of activity and take any necessary actions. Vermin are a fact of life no matter how clean you are--roaches evolved to live near humans; mice can squeeze through a dime sized hole. A good relationship with the local exterminator is the only way to keep them at bay other than depriving them of food and water.

By the way, the hand washing signs are, as far as I know, required by law, if not to ease the mind of the customers. Either way, it's a constant practice in my store.


February 20, 2008 11:50 AM

Are you serious? I am an Assistant Manager for Taco Bell and I have worked for the company since I grduated high school. I am now nearing my 30th birthday, you can do the math, and in the many years and the numerous restaraunts that I have had the pleassure to serve guests, I have NEVER, EVER had to deal with a rat or mouse problem. The problem is not that the mice were there but that steps, which are in place, were not taken properly ensure that rodents(vermin) do not enter or live on the premises. Just because ONE restaraunt out off the thousands that are world-wide has an issue is it open sesason? Just one final comment Mr. Kiley have you never dealt with vermin in your life. Speck to plank Mr. Kiley. Speck to Plank.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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