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 have gone viral.
The latest shows 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 treat. (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 image also appeared on the sites of The Consumerist and Business Insider.)
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.
STORY: Photo of Taco Bell worker licking shells sends shudders
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," Lynch said in an e-mail. "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 corrective action."
Officials at the National Restaurant Association, the industry trade group, insist that these gross social-media postings are the exception in an industry that serves 130 million customers daily. "This type of occurrence is very rare and something that individual restaurant companies handle swiftly, internally," says spokeswoman Sue Hensley. "In many instances, the food items aren't served to customers."
These few, controversial, social-media postings, Hensley says, give "a wildly mischaracterized image of the millions of hard-working, professional individuals working in the restaurant industry."
The best that 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.
WFMY News 2