These fast food scandals dominated headlines
Fast food is a huge part of American culture. A lot of us have grown up with brands such as McDonald’s or Burger King, becoming familiar not only with their menus but numerous scandals. Here are just some fast food scandals that made headlines and probably made consumers think twice about going through that drive-thru.
1. Papa John blamed low pizza sales on NFL players
Here’s an example of when a founder damaged their company. Papa John’s founder John Schnatter (sometimes referred to as “Papa John”) was pushed out of the company after several offensive remarks. After Schnatter blamed declining pizza sales on NFL players taking a knee, he stepped down as CEO in 2017. You’d think he’d learn his lesson, right?
Not. At. All. During a conference call for media training, Schnatter used an offensive racial slur. Soon after, he was removed from the company’s headquarters, had his founder agreement terminated and stepped down as chairman of the board.
NEXT: Whoever thought of this acronym didn’t thoroughly research if it was already being used elsewhere. Turns out it was, and not in a good way.
2. An acronym Krispy Kreme picked didn’t last long
A Krispy Kreme store in the United Kingdom in 2015 thought it might be able to get more customers with a promotion called Krispy Kreme Klub Wednesdays. It shortened the name to an acronym which unfortunately stood for an infamous hate group in the U.S. We guess the name isn’t as common in the U.K…
A Krispy Kreme spokesperson shared this statement with USA Today: “We do believe this was a completely unintentional oversight on the part of our longtime franchise partners in the U.K.” As you can imagine, the Krispy Kreme Klub quickly disbanded.
NEXT: These hamburger buns made people really angry — especially in the country of Pakistan.
3. Hardee’s suggestive advertising
It seems like literally any product’s advertising can turn the message to suggestive. Hardee’s rolled out an advertising campaign featuring a picture of two hamburger buns placed to make them look like, well, human buns. A hand is squeezing said buns with the text “fresh buns” hovering above it. It’s hard to miss the innuendo.
This got people talking. In particular, the advertisement caused a lot of backlash in Pakistan — one country that especially dislikes overly suggestive marketing. As a company, it might be best to have marketing that doesn’t alienate any particular group.
NEXT: After reading this story, we thought making coffee at home was a better idea than buying out.
4. Fecal matter was found in Starbucks iced coffee
“These should not be present at any level — never mind the significant numbers found,” expert Tony Lewis told the BBC. We agree, Tony. The British news giant found that ice used at Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero had trace amounts of fecal matter. The BBC also tested tables, trays and high chairs.
Seven of 10 samples taken from Costa Coffee’s ice and three of 10 samples at Caffe Nero and Starbucks were found to have fecal matter. In particular, the bacteria it tested positive for was fecal coliforms. The findings were very concerning.
NEXT: This E. coli outbreak connected to this fast food chain turned out to be fatal for two children.
5. Jack-in-the-Box’s fatal E. coli outbreak
Customers were not frequenting Jack-in-the-Box in 1993. The stock of its parent company, Foodmaker Inc., dropped over 30 percent. Stores in the Pacific Northwest received anonymous calls daily harassing the workers. It was a dark time for Jack-in-the-Box and everyone associated with the brand. What in the world could’ve happened to prompt such a strong response?
Tragically, two children died after eating Jack-in-the-Box burgers infected with E. coli 0157:H7. The New York Times said this particular strain of bacteria can be fatal, especially to children. “It’s your worst, worst nightmare,” Jack’s president told NYT.
NEXT: This company tried everything to gain back its customers after many fell ill with food poisoning.
6. Customers fell ill after eating Chipotle
At least 647 people who’d eaten at one Chipotle store in Powell, Ohio fell ill in 2018. Turns out the culprit was Clostridium perfringens — a bacterium that manifests from food being left out at unsafe temperatures. This is one of many things the chain has done to tarnish customer trust.
One employee told CNBC that sick employees would often not be allowed to take the day off and be forced to work. This is especially irresponsible for a food company. In addition, falsifying food safety reports were encouraged and employees were poorly trained in food prep.
NEXT: Just because it has the word “vegetable” in it doesn’t mean it’s vegetarian.
7. McDonald’s vegetable oil might not be vegetarian
McDonald’s owned the fact that it fried its fries in beef fat up until 1999. To appease consumers, the fast food chain started using vegetable oil to make its fries. The term “natural flavors” was used on its ingredients list. However, that term still included beef products. Three vegetarians sued the chain for misleading them.
Two of them staved off meat for religious reasons. McDonald’s fired back, claiming it never declared its fries were vegetarian. Still, McDonald’s decided to donate $10 million to Hindu groups and others to smooth over the debacle.
NEXT: A customer falsely accused this chain of sticking something really gross in her chili.
8. Wendy’s was falsely accused of putting an extra ingredient in its chili
No one wants to be known as the “Chili Finger Lady.” That’s now what Anna Ayala will probably forever be known as because of her little stunt. Ayala was eating at a San Jose, California Wendy’s in 2005 when she supposedly chomped down on a partially cooked human finger in her chili.
The negative media attention lost Wendy’s $21 million in sales, says NBC Bay Area. Ayala finally came clean in 2010. Turns out, her husband’s co-worker gave the couple his severed finger, which he’d lost in an accident. Ayala plopped the finger in soup and the rest is history.
NEXT: Just like McDonald’s vegetable oil isn’t vegetarian, this chain’s meat isn’t really meat.
9. Taco Bell meat might be only 35 percent meat
Mystery meat doesn’t sound appealing to anyone. Unfortunately, that’s what was on the menu at Taco Bell. Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that Taco Bell “beef” didn’t have enough actual beef in it to be called beef. The firm eventually decided not to pursue the case.
Plaintiffs said that Taco Bell beef contained not just beef, but oats, seasonings and other fillers. Under USDA’s standards, this isn’t allowed to be considered beef. We guess this is why some places advertise having 100 percent “pure beef.”
NEXT: No matter how hard government officials push for this right, businesses won’t be able to get away with discriminating against certain customers.
10. Memories Pizza refused to serve LGBTQ+ customers
Turns out many value tolerance over pizza. The only memory we have of the now-closed Indiana-based Memories Pizza is its refusal to serve LGBTQ+ clientele. In March 2018, the pizza joint shuttered its doors for good, said the South Bend Tribune. The restaurant first became famous in 2015 not for its pizza but its intolerance.
Its support of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act made it go viral, consequentially receiving an onslaught of negative Yelp reviews. Mike Pence, who was Indiana governor back in the day, passed the bill to “protect” people who thought the government infringed upon their religious freedoms.
NEXT: This story gives new meaning to the phrase “bite the bullet.”
11. Nine-millimeter round found in a Costco hot dog
It was just a normal day for 31-year-old Olivia Chanes in 2004 until she bit into something rock solid when eating a hot dog bought at a Costco in Irvine, California. Turns out it was a 9-millimeter round! She had stomach pains later on which turned out to be another bullet in her stomach.
Police searched the remaining hot dogs at that Irvine Costco and found no other bullets. It was a mystery as to how the bullet got into the dog — the company said its hot dogs passed through a metal detector before leaving the facility.
NEXT: Eight TGI Friday’s stores received thousands of dollars in fines for this antic.
12. TGI Friday’s bartenders changed drink orders
New Jersey-based Briad Restaurant Group was slammed with a $500,000 fine in 2013 because eight of its TGI Friday’s locations were found to be serving customers cheap booze instead of the premium alcohol they ordered. In May of that year, the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control raided 13 Briad-owned restaurants, seizing 250 alcohol bottles.
“This unlawful practice took advantage of consumers who were cheated out of what they thought they were purchasing,” New Jersey AG John J. Hoffman said in a statement. “Customers should get what they pay for every time without exception.”
NEXT: This might make you think twice about buying ice cream from this fast food giant.
13. Major mold found in a McDonald’s ice cream machine
An 18-year-old McDonald’s employee named Nick (he asked the media not to use his last name) told Buzzfeed News in 2017 that he was fired for exposing mold in the store’s ice cream machine. At his store in Louisiana, he was tasked with cleaning the machine but accidentally spilled ice cream everywhere.
He opened up the machine to clean and found lots of nasty mold scaling its insides. Nick kept the photos to himself for two weeks but decided to tweet it as he became increasingly dissatisfied with the restaurant’s working conditions.
NEXT: This company was accused of using dumpster meat.
14. Dumpster meat at the Golden Corral
It’s unlikely many would eat at a Golden Corral after viewing a video “rogue employee” Brandon Huber made in 2013. The video showed pounds of raw meat outside near a Golden Corral dumpster in Port Orange, Florida. There’s raw hamburger patties, raw baby back ribs, raw chicken, and more meat with black flies swarming around it.
The restaurant was hiding the food during a health inspection and it would be brought back inside to serve customers, Huber claimed. The manager involved in this was later fired, according to the Huffington Post.
NEXT: A man sued Arby’s for over $50,000 after finding this in his chicken sandwich.
15. A piece of human flesh found in an Arby’s sandwich
It was June 2005 when David Scheiding was happily eating a chicken sandwich in an Arby’s until he noticed something strange. It was a three-fourths of an inch-long piece of human flesh. “It looked like I was seeing fingerprints on it,” he told the Associated Press. “I got sick and went to the bathroom.”
Upon inspection from Miami County health inspectors, it was found that the restaurant manager had sliced his finger while shredding lettuce. He sanitized the area but didn’t throw away the lettuce. The tainted chicken sandwich had lettuce. Coincidence? Probably not.
NEXT: If you’re planning on keeping your job at any established food service company, don’t do what these people did.
16. Domino’s employees were fired for this
Domino’s employees Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer probably didn’t realize their prank video would get them felony charges. In 2009, Hammonds and Setzer filmed themselves putting boogers on sandwiches that looked like they were going out for delivery. Thankfully, no boogers actually made it out to delivery — or say they…
The pair told Domino’s executives that they never actually delivered the nasal mucous-ridden food. Despite this, it was a major PR disaster for the brand. “We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said Tim McIntyre of Domino’s.
NEXT: This is the dark side of when an Internet rumor gets out of control.
17. The infamous “pizzagate” incident
We thought the pizzagate conspiracy theory had finally been put to rest but no — a fire in February 2019 at the pizza joint at the center of the theory reignited (no pun intended) the rumors. Police assumed someone purposely started the fire at the Washington D.C.-based pizza shop, Comet Ping Pong. Online speculation was immediate.
Pizzagate alleged that prominent democratic politicians ran a child sacrifice and sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong’s basement in 2016. It finally culminated into an armed man barging into the pizza joint intent on “saving the children,” but the gunman found no children.
NEXT: The chicken in your sandwich might not actually be chicken.
18. Subway’s chicken was only half chicken
Perhaps this is good news for people that want to slowly transition into a vegetarian diet? Canadian broadcasting company CBC enlisted a lab to test the DNA makeup of Subway chicken. They repeated the tests about five times, finding that the breast meat was around 54 percent chicken and chicken strips were around 43 percent chicken.
The rest was found to be made up of soy and other fillers. Other chicken was tested — Wendy’s, A&W, McDonald’s, and Tim Hortons — and had much better results than Subway. However, none of the brands had 100 percent chicken.
NEXT: The infamous case of fast food coffee that was hotter than lava.
19. This made McDonald’s lower its coffees’ temperature 10 degrees
On the surface it seems like a frivolous lawsuit — woman spills a cup of coffee on her lap, sues McDonald’s. Upon further analysis by various legal and medical experts, it turned out this probably helped a lot of other consumers in the future. In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled hot McDonald’s coffee, suffering burns to six percent of her body.
In order to treat her severe burns, Liebeck had to be hospitalized for eight days and get skin grafts. It turned out that there were over 700 complaints about the chain’s hot coffee, but the company did nothing about this. McDonald’s ended up lowering their coffee’s temperature and paying Liebeck over $2 million.
NEXT: The spokesperson scandal that took down Subway’s reputation
20. Subway’s Jared Fogle getting arrested
Jared Fogle became Subway’s spokesperson, touting the fact that a steady diet of Subway sandwiches and exercise helped him lose over 200 pounds. Turns out that Fogle led an entirely different — and disturbing — other life off-screen. In 2015, he plead guilty to distributing inappropriate photos of children and traveling to engage with young girls.
Fogle got 15 years and eight months in prison. As of 2018, Fogle is trying to get released from prison and suing the federal government for $57 million. Before this scandal, Fogle was Subway’s spokesperson for 15 years.
NEXT: More often than not it turns out burgers aren’t ‘just the beef.’
21. Burger King burgers suspected of containing horse meat
The fast-food chain revealed in January 2013 that some of its burgers had “very small trace levels” of horse DNA. This was linked back to the meat plant Silvercrest. As a precaution, production was moved away from this plant, said the Guardian in 2013. This scandal threatened consumers’ confidence in the brand.
In a statement, Burger King said that Silvercrest used a “small percentage” of beef from a non-approved Polish supplier. “They promised to deliver 100 percent British and Irish beef patties and have not done so,” said Burger King. “We have terminated our relationship with them.”
NEXT: Like Arby’s, there was something sickening in the lettuce at this restaurant, too.
22. E. coli-infected lettuce sickened some Taco Bell patrons
Late 2006, it was found that 71 people were sickened by E. coli-tainted lettuce clearly linked to Taco Bells in five states, said a CDC report. Most developed stomach cramps, fever and diarrhea. Eight people developed a rare kind of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome. It probably made a lot swear off Taco Bell for good.
The states with infected individuals were New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina. The CDC believed lettuce contamination occurred before the greens arrived at Taco Bells. Post-E. coli discovery, states put in place stricter laws on lettuce handling.
NEXT: This might make you check the contents of your burger before taking a bite.
23. Needles were found in a Burger King burger
It’s surprising how many different stories about various non-edible items found in sandwiches and burgers are on our list. Former Army sergeant Clark Bartholomew swallowed a needle that was in the Burger King burger he ordered from a Hawaii Burger King on an Army base. Bartholomew pierced his tongue with one and another was stuck in his small intestine.
He required hospitalization to treat his injuries. Bartholomew decided to pursue litigation against Burger King Corp. and the U.S. Army and Air Force Exchange (the Exchange ran the franchise Bartholomew ate at). Eventually, Burger King was dropped from the lawsuit and Bartholomew settled for $50,000 in damages.
NEXT: Businesses risk intense backlash when making discriminatory statements.
24. Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ+ comments didn’t go over well
The chicken chain is famously very anti-LGBTQ+, which it relates back to its strong Evangelical Christian values. In 2012, the company’s CEO Dan Cathy (son of founder Truett Cathy) told Baptist Press he supports “traditional marriage” — what he defines as a marriage between a man and woman.
Thus began the protests. LGBTQ+ members and allies boycotted the chain, staged “kiss-ins” at stores, made a music video lampooning Chick-fil-A, and more. Two years later, Dan Cathy admitted he made a mistake associating the chicken-centric brand with his religious beliefs.
NEXT: This is one of the longest libel trials ever concerning McDonald’s and two protesters.
25. Protesters passed out leaflets slamming Micky D’s
Helen Steel and Davis Morris made McDonald’s very angry with some leaflets they passed out in 1986. The leaflet, called “What’s wrong with McDonald’s — everything they don’t want you to know,” accused McDonald’s of animal cruelty, mistreating workers, encouraging litter, and destroying rainforests.
The pair and several other volunteers were served libel writs from the fast food giant in 1990. Three of the volunteers apologized to McDonald’s and retracted their statements, except for Steel and Morris. Thus began one of the longest libel trials ever.
NEXT: Remember the alleged dumpster meat at Golden Corral? There was “floor meat” at this chain.
26. Employees picked up KFC and McDonald’s meat off a factory floor
A TV report showing workers picking up meat off the floor in a Chinese meat supplier used by McDonald’s Corp. and Yum Brands Inc. (KFC’s parent company) surfaced July 2014. In addition to floor meat, the workers were also shown mixing expired meats with fresh ones. As you can imagine, consumers and the media alike freaked out.
Chinese regulators shut down the meat supplier and the brands apologized. “I don’t know that this is something an apology can fix so easily…people don’t have a whole lot of trust that they have good systems in place,” Benjamin Cavender, a market researcher, told the NY Post.
NEXT: Double-check your chicken nuggets before taking a bite.
27. When a chicken head was found in McDonald’s nuggets
It was November 2000 when Katherine Ortega noticed a weird piece of fried chicken in a box of McDonald’s Mighty Wings. “I noticed that it had a beak and it had eyes,” Ortega told Method Shop. She screamed as she discovered the strange piece in question was a fried chicken head. Ortega later called the restaurant.
The manager spoke to her and said she could get a refund or another box. He also asked her to bring the box of chicken back and they’d “send it back.” Dissatisfied with his response, Ortega went to the media.
NEXT: Over 500 people fell ill and three died after eating at this Mexican restaurant chain.
28. Chi-Chi’s and its Hep A outbreak
This is an example of a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore in the U.S. possibly due to an incident that ruined its reputation. Over 500 people were sickened by a Hep A outbreak linked to a Chi-Chi’s in Pennsylvania, said a 2003 New York Times report. Three people died after contracting the illness at the Mexican restaurant chain.
According to CheatSheet, Chi-Chi’s now only operates in Belgium, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Kind of a random selection of countries, but OK! Hopefully Chi-Chi’s customers in those countries aren’t aware of their past Hep-A outbreak.
NEXT: Something was in these Happy Meals that would only make a select group of individuals happy.
29. Happy Meals with heroin
The McDonald’s workers weren’t putting heroin in children’s meals to give to unsuspecting children — that would be a huge waste of money. Instead, 26-year-old Shantia Dennis was running a drug business in the restaurant’s drive-thru window. Drug patrons would call Dennis ahead of time to let them know they were coming.
They’d roll up to the drive-thru window and say “I’d like to order a toy.” Then, they’d be given a Happy Meal box with heroin inside. Dennis’ business was busted by undercover cops. In 2014, Dennis was charged with criminal use of a cell phone, delivering heroin, possession with intent to deliver heroin and possession of heroin and cannabis. Her defense attorney David J. Shrager pointed out Dennis was just trying to make a living for herself and her two children.