Riddle for Taco Bell: Name a four-letter word that might be as big a public-relations nightmare as the restaurant chain's recent E. coli outbreak. Answer: Rats. Dozens of them, captured on video as they scampered about a New York City franchise.
CNBC's Scott Wapner reported on "Morning Call" from the Taco Bell location in NYC's West Village, where swarms of vermin apparently ran unfettered. He noted that the restaurant had recently received a "clean bill" after being cited for code violations by the New York City Department of Health only two months ago -- following other hygienic citations in 2005 and 2004.
Of course, the rodent horde is only the latest PR woe to hit the Yum! Brands arm: In December, the Tex-Mex eatery chain yanked green onions from all 5,800 of its restaurants across the U.S., after the ingredient was suspected to have carried a dangerous strain of the E. coli bacterium that sickened at least 60 people across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Yum! Brands issued a written statement that said, "This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards. ...We've talked with the franchisee, who is actively addressing this issue, as is evident by the preventative construction in the basement yesterday that temporarily escalated the situation. This store will remain closed until this issue is completely resolved. The health department inspected the restaurant yesterday and we will ask them to return when work is complete to give the restaurant a clean bill of health."
Other sellers of edibles recently in the spotlight for health concerns include Kraft Foods, Cadbury Schweppes, and today, ConAgra Foods announced that tests found the salmonella bacterium in peanut butter produced at its Sylvester, Ga. plant.