Case Study: Taco Bell & E.coli Outbreak
Sadie Thornton Public Relations Writing 12-20-2006

and dehydration and in some cases death has resulted. thus passing on the deadly bacteria to the dinners at the local fast food chain. According to the CDC.coli can also be spread to the produce we eat while it’s being grown. including a spinach-caused E. The important question is will they loss of customers as well? Escherichia coli known as E. Similar embarrassing incidents occurred to other food chains in the past and it remained in the news for several months afterwards. The fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by coming in contact with contaminated animal fertilizer. "By the way. Taco Bell has a new menu item its chicken con E." said David Letterman on a Late Show episode.” (Starnewsonline. The public has been well informed that E. The chain reported green onions to be the culprit and took them off the menu.2 Problem A recent business problem that has flooded the mainstream public eye is the Taco Bell E. which calls for issue and reputation management on the part of the Taco Bell Franchise.coli are bacteria that can live in the intestines of humans and animals.” (49ABCNews. This unfortunate incident became joke material for late night TV show hosts.com) Taco Bell may have suffered a damaging hit to the restaurant chain’s reputation.coli can be passed through the handling and eating of uncooked. The breakout caused over 90 Taco Bell eateries to close temporarily. The bacteria have been known to cause severe abdominal cramps. There has been a E. and two tomato-caused salmonella outbreaks that made about 400 people ill in October and November. Taco Bell executives may be worried about the effect this incident will have on their image. Issue/reputation Management In the aftermath of this unfortunate event. diarrhea.coli related illnesses reported in 67 people.coli outbreak. lettuce from Taco Bell restaurants was the cause of E.coli breakout due to farm produce of which the public may not have been aware.com) The nation is now finding that E. Taco Bell eateries have reopened but the fast food chain remains the topic of conversation. coli outbreak that killed three and sickened more than 200 in September. thus a little . According to the CDC “federal health officials have dealt with five multi-state outbreaks of produce-related illnesses in the last four months. the objective of the company’s public relations team is to ease the minds of their customers and to restore a positive public image.Coli. raw meat or milk.

coli breakout to anyone who calls.coli.coli outbreak. “Questions you should ask yourself before eating at Taco Bell. Since Taco Bell’s outbreak Senator Schumer has called upon the food and drug administration to bring about . Taco Bell became high interest news material. Werder) Taco Bell’s image is in need of some polishing. Solutions Taco Bell needed a plan of action to restore the company’s image to circumvent loss of customers. but to aim there aggression where it belongs. This is an effort on the part of Taco Bell to inform the public and rectify the issue. This means bad news for Taco Bell. something needs to be done. This issue is not just a problem that must be handled by Taco Bell but rather an issue that needs attention from everyone.” When CNN Anchor Jeanie Mose asked people if they would eat at a Taco Bell? Three out of five people said “No”. The informative approach is necessary because an E. at the E. A proactive effort would have been for Taco Bell’s executives to join the fight in making food safer for the public to consume.3 damage control is necessary. This act can be characterized as an “open exchange of information to establish a common definition of the problem. but an informed nation is better equipped to handle the necessary precautions that should be taken on the behave of the franchise as well as the consumers. common goals and sharing of positions and responsibilities. In light of the E. Taco Bell even hit David Letterman’s Top Ten List stating. The franchise as well as the public isn’t aware of the presence of the harmful bacteria until it has already taken affect.coli outbreak is unforeseen to the eyes of everyone.coli and lists recommended actions that should be taken if one might have such symptoms. Taco Bell may find that the strategies necessary to obtain their goal are the Informative strategy as well as the cooperative problem – solving strategy. A suggested course of action for Taco Bell is not to go on the defensive. The phone line also lists the symptoms caused by E.” (K. After consulting the experts. One fighter that has already joined the cause was New York State Senator Charles Schumer. They continued to make headlines. even a few weeks after the incident. One step in the right direction that has already been taken is an information hotline setup by Taco Bell in the aftermath of the outbreak. 1-800-tacobell is an automated telephone line that explains the E.P.

New Jersey. Along with the cause. New York. We are unsure what has occurred. As an extra precaution. 2006 -. (1010wins. but health officials have indicated that there is no immediate threat and whatever may have occurred has most likely passed through the system since there have been no new cases since November 29. In addition the company could air public service announcements or even host fundraisers to raise money for E.coli. four in Suffolk County. Taco Bell would have strengthened their image in the eyes of consumers. Taco Bell issued a press release stating: “December 4. we voluntarily closed one restaurant in Middlesex County. Page Principles If Taco Bell follows this course of action they will be in good standing concerning the core values of public relations. the first one being” tell the truth”. we are in the process of sanitizing these isolated restaurants and replacing all the food ingredients before reopening these nine restaurants. Another suggestion would be for Taco Bell to team up with other businesses and/or non-profit organizations to develop an awareness campaign. Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our customers and . but in lieu of the incident are taking a stand and trying to help. New York and four in Nassau County. the causes.4 “produce-tracing measures” to protect the nation against unforeseeable bacteria. we immediately began working with state and county health officials to assist in their investigation.Greg Creed. By reacting this way. but rather an unfortunate event under which they had no control. symptoms. how it spreads. Taco Bell could donate funds to research organizations that study E.com) Taco Bell is advised to publicly take a position on the issue and join in on the fight. They would have let the public know that this breakout wasn’t just an accident on the part of the franchise. "As soon as we learned of an E.coli research. As a precautionary measure. treatments and scientific possibilities of eliminating the threat all-together.coli issue. Immediately after news of the breakout was heard. Together businesses could circulate information discussing E. Taco Bell president said.coli in hopes of coming up with technology that can defeat this disastrous bacteria that threatens the health of numerous people.

The President’s message was important because it expressed the attitude of the franchise. This particular case has been “conducted as if the entire company depends on it”. It is important that Taco Bell remains professional during this process. This next principle deals with the entire issue management. the damaging affects could have been fatal to the company. They will want to continue business as usual and gain back their loyal customers. Managing for tomorrow is also important. This is a serious matter for Taco Bell and if not handled properly. The next steps taken on the part of the franchise were “listen to the customer” and “manage for tomorrow”. Taco Bell continued to update with news releases. people were unsure and had questions that need to be answered." (Tacobell. but Taco Bell as been open and upfront from the beginning and took action to prove it. These two principles were important to restore the company’s image in the eyes of the consumers. ensuring the public’s safety. Taco Bell needs to get back on the right track after this outbreak.com) Since the incident. even closing some locations where there might have been contamination. the company reassured it’s consumers that Taco Bell is an upstanding establishment whose main priority is safety. This also involves the next principle: “realize that the true character of a company is expressed by its people”. By being honest with the public. The key was to not loose Taco Bell’s faithful customers. Seven releases were posted on the company’s website. After an incident such as this. Customer feedback was crucial in meeting their needs.5 employees. We are obviously very concerned about the well-being of all those who have been affected by this incident and will continue to work closely with health authorities to get to the root cause of the issue. Taco Bell aimed to become a safe and enjoyable eating experience once again. revealing that Taco Bell really does care for its customers. Taco Bell’s actions and the suggested plan of action both sent a message to the public. Taco Bell has taken action concerning this incident by enabling a hotline to inform the pubic and answer questions. .The second Principle addressed through Taco Bell’s PR team is “prove it with action”. Many establishments hide behind denial and lies in an attempt to avoid public confrontation in an issue like this one.

the possible courses of action.php?contentType=4&contentId=259575 . 2006. This issue will continue to be talked about. Works Cited Schumer Takes Action After Taco Bell E. from 1010 Wins Web site: http://www.Coli Scare. but hopefully the chatter will die down and the franchise will be able to recover fully. “remain calm. and how the core values are applied in a situation such as this. Retrieved December 20. This example has made for an interesting case study. and remain the butt of a few jokes for a little while. the way it played out in the public eye. patient and good humored”. Taco Bell handled the incident wisely and were as good humored as the situation would allow.1010wins.com/pages/148818. how it was handled. This particular case is a good example of a business problem. make headlines.6 The last principle is good advice to any PR team.

tacobell. CDC: Taco Bell E. from Starnewsonline.7 Tobbe. december 4). 2006. 2006.Coli outbreak is no laughing matter.com/apps/pbcs. Taco Bell e. coli outbreak unremarkable.com/ (2006).com Web site: http://www. Retrieved December 20. Retrieved December 20. Our Company:Press releases. 2006.com/news/2006/dec/18/taco_bell_ecoli_outbreak_no_laughing_matter_or_ it/#download-video . Mike (2006). from 49news Web site: http://www. Retrieved December 20.wilmingtonstar. or is it?.dll/article?AID=/20061215/NEWS/612150337/-1/State (2006.49abcnews. from Tacobell Web site: http://www.

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