Tainted fast food?
June 27, 2007 9:54 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here worked in fast food? How common is it for cooks to "mess" with food? Was it more common than you wanted to see, or did nobody bother with such shenanigans? I emphasize this question is about fast food, not traditional restaurants, and I'm wondering how much stock to put in those stories that sometimes make the rounds.
posted by rolypolyman to Food & Drink (62 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the only story I have that I can vouch for, because my girlfriend of the time was the waitress involved, and she was really upset when it happened.

Basically, she worked at an ice cream parlor. She was cutting up a banana split, and sliced her finger open. Blood ended up, among other places, in the banana split.

While she was holding the cut under running water, her boss inquired about what happened. When she told him, and specifically mentioned that she'd make a new one since she bled in the first one, he told her to serve it anyway.

She quit rather than do it, but didn't throw out the split before she did, so I assume it was served (we don't know.)
posted by davejay at 9:58 PM on June 27, 2007

Once when I worked at a Boston Market, I saw someone drop a meatloaf on the floor and then cut it up and serve it.

That was pretty much the only time I saw something like that. My guess is that most of the time, you're probably in the clear.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:01 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: (The gross-out tales are ok but I'm also looking for opinions on how common this kind of thing is)
posted by rolypolyman at 10:03 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked at a Nathan's hotdog slash TCBY place for about a year. It was pretty common for us to mess with the food since it was in a turnpike stop and 90% of the customers were complete assholes. It was never anything major though. Nathan's policy was to serve 2-3 day old hot dogs as long as they were cooked, no matter how they looked, so we'd make sure the customers we didn't like got the oldest, nastiest ones. For the very worst customers, we had a bin full of nearly rancid hot dogs which we served them, after saving them for over a week. With regards to the yogurt, we kept stale (and I mean really, really stale) toppings on hand for people we didn't like. Again, nothing major.. no spitting or anything, we just made sure they got the worst service possible. This occurred daily, but only to customers who started yelling at us as soon as they were up in line.

I know the Roy Rogers and Sbarro's in the same rest stop were far, far worse with what they did. It also occurred daily.

So, uh, keep your eyes open if you are taking the PA turnpike.
posted by Loto at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2007

I knew a lot of people who have worked in fast food, and I did short order at a Perkins type family restaurant a long long time ago, and my perspective is: messing with as in spitting in or worse? Never heard or saw a single case. It's a pretty strong taboo and the kind of thing that could get you into worse-than-being-fired trouble.

Purposely mistreating food so it is unpleasant as a retaliatory act, i.e. burning, leaving off/overdoing condiments, giving old/cold food - not uncommon.

Accidentally mistreating food - dropping etc. - and serving it anyway, or violating handling rules due to rushing/laziness - very common. Number one thing I'd worry about in a fast food joint is whether they're washing their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, not malicious mischief.
posted by nanojath at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2007

I used to work at KFC and I can honestly say at our store, no one messed with the food. The reason why is because we had a very hands-on manager who would watch us all like a hawk. From reminding the cooks to mind their hairnets to making sure the ice was clean. One time I was eating lunch and found a piece of chicken bone and feather, but that was from the packaged meat we used - not through any fault of the cooking staff. Plus there are often kitchen inspections. There are exceptions, and I have heard horror stories about food being messed with at other KFC stores near us. The stories usually originated from the one store that was making the least amount of money and the one corporate rarely visited.

However, I did also work at my mum's restaurant and things were far worse there. A rude customer could expect to get all sorts of surprises.
posted by sweetlyvicious at 10:16 PM on June 27, 2007

Of course, seriously crazy people are out there...
posted by nanojath at 10:18 PM on June 27, 2007

I was a cook at a Big Boy for a year. Not fast food, but close. All I know is that on my shift, where I worked with several other cooks, there was never any food tampering that I was aware of. Even though we were all kids (17 to 19), we were very conscientious about serving food that we ourselves would want to eat.

The worst we did was deep fry various things (eggs, etc) after we closed, and before cleaning the deep fryer.
posted by The Deej at 10:19 PM on June 27, 2007

Deliberately mess with the food, not as likely as you'd think.

Cut corners to make things go faster/easier/better? Yeah.

Five second rule? Hell yeah.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:23 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked in fast food for a couple of years. I wouldn't say that deliberate "messing" with food was that common, although I did witness at least a couple of instances where asshole customers got some saliva in their food, and once even a bit of dishwashing detergent, which is why you should always be nice to the zit-faced teenagers at your local McDonald's / Burger King / whatever, even when you want to blow a gasket because they screwed up your order.

The type of "messing" that Afroblanco describes was more common in my experience, where food safety guidelines were skirted to save time and money. It was easier to just pick that tomato up off the floor than explain to your manager why you had a wasted tomato on your inventory sheet. Also, we pretty much never followed the recommended expiration times for the various ingredients that sat out, because on slow days this would have meant that we'd be throwing out food left and right, which, again, managers don't like to do. Which is why it's usually better (or at least tastier) to order that burrito at a time when the restaurant is busy, rather than when it's slow, because the ingredients are less likely to have been sitting in a steam table for 6 hours before they make it to your mouth.
posted by good in a vacuum at 10:23 PM on June 27, 2007

@The Deej: That was the best part of any fast food job. Gummy bears and apples were the best.

I should also note that the customers who got bad treatment really were asses. A customer that was frustrated from driving for hours was treated well. A customer that stood there yelling at us for being slow to serve got messed with.
posted by Loto at 10:23 PM on June 27, 2007

During my 2.5 year stint at McDonald's, I never heard of anyone caught deliberately "messing" with the food. nobody ever spit in a burger or anything. then again, we were a fairly clean and well-run suburban McDonald's, not the sort that usually features in the urban legends. They were quite strict there and I guess nobody wanted to get fired.

there were a couple of incidents I heard about while I was there, but not while I was actually working. One, a kitchen dude's bandaid came off and wound up inside a burger. Two, a screw fell out of one of the sauce guns and wound up inside a burger. I think something similar happened with once with a milkshake as well. All inadvertent. That's it.

Oh, but one thing that did happen was that food was served when it should have been thrown out. Typically you cook burgers and chicken patties in advance and keep them in a heated cabinet for up to 20 minuets before they get thrown out. but if it's not busy, it's tempting to let it sit a bit longer rather than throw it out and cook some more, especially if you're busy cleaning and doing other stuff. 30 or 40 minutes was common. rarely, it might stretch to an hour or two. On preview: pretty much exactly what good in a vaccuum said.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:27 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked in a kebab shop and restaurants in Australia on and off for a year or two. I never saw any intentional miss handling of food or revenge on customers.

It was tempting sometimes, people can be such asses, but it never happened.
posted by sien at 10:33 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked at a Burger King for about two years and never saw anything like that happen (and was very close to the actual preparers, not in a manager role), but we were mostly clean-cut high school types.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:33 PM on June 27, 2007

The worst thing we ever did at a (famous) sandwich shop was to stuff a million jalapenos into the subs of nasty, sexist, slobbering, drunk customers. None of us tried anything truly nasty, as we didn't want to kill anyone.

Now stuff that we did to get back at the owner....
posted by acoutu at 10:38 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked at a McDonald's for three (horrid) years, and never saw or heard of any bodily fluids, dirt, or such being purposefully added to food. However, it was pretty routine to serve food that was past its holding cabinet time when an employee thought he or she could get away with it. The main exception was this one regular customer who was *very* picky about what could and could not go on his Fish Filet. He was a bit annoying about it, so sometimes his order would be made incorrectly, but only by the new people who hadn't yet figured out how to ignore his annoying behavior.

We had a very strict store manager, and at least one of the franchise owners showed up at my store (they owned six McDonald's in the area) daily, so the close supervision prevented most of the unpleasant things from happening during daylight hours. However, the night managers were much less strict and the owners never showed up at night, so while I didn't work nights, I would expect things like that might have happened more often. Most of the things people got in trouble for at work were more like water fights around the dishwasher or talking back to the managers.

I agree with nanojath--I'd be more worried about the workers who don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. The vast majority of managers are loathe to let their workers stop what they're during to use the bathroom in the first place (they have to find someone else to take over their working position), and put a lot of pressure on them to return very quickly--within three to five minutes--so it was fairly common at the place where I worked for managers to have to walk over to the sink outside the bathroom to make sure the worker had washed his or her hands before returning to work.

I would recommend that people be nice to the workers at all restaurants. It's a stressful job and they have a lot of power over what does and doesn't end up in your food--I know I was tempted a few times by some pretty nasty customers.
posted by Trinkers at 10:42 PM on June 27, 2007

I worked at a Burger King for about a half a year or so, as a teenager. I never witnessed anything like the stereotypical spitting.

However, the basic sanitation procedures left a lot to be desired. Occasionally, some fairly repulsive things would happen. But it was out of laziness and a lack of caring about the job, not out of malice.
posted by Flunkie at 10:54 PM on June 27, 2007

Five second rule? Hell yeah.
posted by Cool Papa Bell 18 minutes ago

Now that you say that... I think that was the worst thing I saw at Big Boy. My partner for the night had a steak half-cooked, and in turning it, it flipped onto the floor, uncooked side down. He sheepishly put it back on the grill and finished cooking it. Frankly... I don't think it did any harm. He did it to save time since well-done steaks take so long to cook. It wasn't right, but it was without malice.

@The Deej: That was the best part of any fast food job. Gummy bears and apples were the best.
posted by Loto

My favorite was the raw egg in the shell. Dropped in... silence. Nothing. Then suddenly, a mess of egg, now out of the shell floated to the surface, cooking solid on the surface. It was like art, really! :) The managers didn't care, since we only did it before changing out the oil. We tried all kinds of fruit, veggies, and some food scraps. It's amazing how appetizing deep-frying can make anything!

I did have a friend who worked at a fast food burger place. He was a cop hater, and he bragged about how he tampered with any food ordered by a cop. Who knows if it was true, but he talked about the usual spitting incidents, but also that he emptied the contents of the bug zapper into a salad. I felt that was a stretch, because he said the cop never noticed.
posted by The Deej at 10:55 PM on June 27, 2007

I've worked at both McDonalds and Wendy's, and never saw anyone intentionally messing with food. That said, stuff like what's been descibed above--things sitting out far too long, things dropped on the floor and put on your sandwich anyhow--were not at all uncommon. The lettuce wasn't always washed for salads, the expiration dates on condiments (and, less commonly, things like buns and burgers) were basically ignored, and cross-contamination (the same tongs used for raw chicken and cooked burgers, say) was typical.

I also have to say that I will never, ever consume Wendy's chili. At the store I worked at, at least, it was made by taking any overcooked, dropped, or expired sandwich patties and tossing them into the pot. I once watched the store manager cutting mold off of uncooked burgers and then putting the rest of the burger in the chili vat. I really don't even want to think about how the mold got there in the first place, since I've never seen anything kept in a freezer mold before. *shudder*
posted by meghanmiller at 11:08 PM on June 27, 2007

I never worked fast food, only casual restaurants, but at three of the four places I worked spitting in people's food, etc, was completely normal. Not necessarily every day, but definitely every time somebody was a major asshole. The cooks generally didn't get involved, but the busboys and waitresses for sure would mess with the food.

At the fourth place, we loved the owner and wanted the place to succeed, so we didn't retaliate against the customers no matter what they did. It appears that management is key in this from the other comments above -- if you love or fear the manager, you don't mess with the food, in a deliberate way at least. It seems that fast food servers do have more oversight than restaurant servers, so probably there is less food tampering in your McDonald's than in your Denny's.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:09 PM on June 27, 2007

Interestingly, I was with three people tonight with extensive food service histories, and this very subject came up. Most people working are too busy or too aware of karma to screw with food needlessly. But I *shudder* when I'm with someone in a restaurant who gets too picky, annoying, demanding or rude. These people have almost inevitably never worked in food service or really any sort of "service" business. And nearly everyone who's ever worked in a restaurant will admit to screwing with the food for an "asshole," even if it's as harmless as messing up the order or using "wilderness pepper" on a steak (I just learned that term tonight!)

To me, messing with food service personnel is like telling your doctor he's an asshole, right before he performs surgery on you. Just stupid.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:15 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked at a Noah's Bagels with an espresso machine. People would substitute regular coffee when the decaf ran out. I personally thought it was terrible but at least two workers had no problem with it at all. Does that count? It's not malicious, but it's also not caring about the customers' well being at all.

I've also worked at a Friendly's Ice Cream Place, and a Bertucci's Pizzeria, maybe 24 months total, part time, and I didn't see anything bad ever happen at either place (I don't think these count as fast food though).
posted by salvia at 12:19 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for about five years in high school and through college. The only fast food restaurant I have ever worked at. I never did anything to customers food, the worst I ever saw was that while filleting the chicken breasts and one would fall on the floor, the owner would say wash it off and it would be ok.... I never agreed with that and always threw it away when he wasn't watching. Other than that, the only other thing I witnessed was a stupid crazy high school girl thought she would be "Cute and funny" (her words) by putting comet cleaner into the flour and spice mixture used for breading the chicken. Needless to say she was terminated on the spot. Overall I would feel completely comfortable in any other Chick-Fil-A.
posted by tradeer33 at 1:03 AM on June 28, 2007

Worked in a non-chain pizza shop in New Zealand for three years.

Deliberate fucking with customers? Never that I saw, with one exception: we had a pizza with chillis, the customer ordered it hot and complained that she couldn't taste the chilli at all. I knew damn well I'd put plenty on, and the boss had seen me. So we sent her a replacement pizza that would have been inedible, it had so much chilli on it. But hey, she was clearly fucking with us to get a free pizza. (If she was being honest, then she got what she wanted anyway, so no harm).

Again, the main health worries would be carelessness: cross-contamination maybe, slightly old ingredients (but we're talking stale bases, not old meat). I once may have lost a plaster in the cheese, but I'm not sure (could easily have lost it somewhere else). I don't remember seeing anyone pick something up off the floor and serve it. I'm sure not everyone was as careful at handwashing as I am (but then at least the foods weren't handled after they were cooked, so hopefully cooking killed the germs).

Our worst health issue was this idiot drunken customer who would come in and grab toppings out of the trays with his bare hands and eat them. I'm sure his hands weren't too clean.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:20 AM on June 28, 2007

tradeer33 writes "I worked at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for about five years in high school and through college. The only fast food restaurant I have ever worked at. I never did anything to customers food, the worst I ever saw was that while filleting the chicken breasts and one would fall on the floor, the owner would say wash it off and it would be ok.... I never agreed with that and always threw it away when he wasn't watching."

'Sup Chick-fil-a buddy. I once dropped a whole tray of breaded chicken on the way to the fryer (and busted my ass on the greasy floor in the process). My manager wanted to wash it off and reuse it. I refused. I told him he was free to do it himself, but I was not going to participate is serving food that touched that floor in the middle of the Saturday lunch shift.
posted by chiababe at 1:58 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked two summers at Beeline Chicken & Pizza in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, and nothing like this *ever* happened. As somebody above said, we made food that we ourselves would want to eat and were pretty conscientious about it. Not even the dropping thing.
In fact I still feel really bad about once delivering a pizza to a ski hill employee that was burnt and cold (uh, the pizza, not the guy)... he drove over to the store mad as hell, and he was totally right.

(By the way if anybody's passing through on the TransCanada this summer, stop in at the Beeline - your taste buds will thank you)
posted by Flashman at 2:57 AM on June 28, 2007

'Sup Chick-fil-a buddy. I once dropped a whole tray of breaded chicken on the way to the fryer (and busted my ass on the greasy floor in the process). My manager wanted to wash it off and reuse it. I refused. I told him he was free to do it himself, but I was not going to participate is serving food that touched that floor in the middle of the Saturday lunch shift.

Hey, more Chick-fil-a people! Me too. I was night manager at a pretty busy freestanding Chick-fil-a for almost 3 years and I never saw anything deliberate to mess with someone. Well, nothing harmful anyway. There were plenty of times where we would use 2-3day old salad ingredients because they still looked ok and we had to get rid of them, or use hour old nuggets because some idiot cooked a whole damn bag of them when we didn't need anymore, and you cant throw out $300 of food, right? The most consistant shady thing was serving old/cold food after 830 or 9 when everyone is just trying to shut down and go home. Anytime during the morning or afternoon, you're likely to get great service, but you come in at 9:45 and order 5 sandwiches when there's only 4 1/2 left...youre getting a shady cold sandwich.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:29 AM on June 28, 2007

Chuck Palahniuk collects these stories... the best one I read involved Margaret Thatcher and someone's DNA. But, it's mostly urban myth.

No one is likely to be messing with your food unless you gave them a reason to do so.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:14 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked at Subway through high school and at Domino's through college. I never saw anyone intentionally messing with food.
Except in incidents similar to that Infinite Jest describes...when people would call Domino's and ask for their hot wings extra hot, we would pour red chili powder and jalapeños with ridiculous amounts of extra juice into the pan before cooking them, then pour it all off before adding the sauce so they looked normal. And since no one ever complained, I don't know if that even counts.
posted by solotoro at 5:09 AM on June 28, 2007

4 ½ years at a Burger King. I once tossed a burger out before serving it because a co-worker hocked a big loogie in it because he didn’t like the “fucking jock” who ordered it. I also saw a fly land on a burger patty while it was being prepped and the guy making it closed it up anyway. Another time, when four people working the kitchen were on acid one Saturday, they spent a good portion of the day tossing plastic things (bread-bag clips, nametags, etc) into the fryolators in between batches of fries. In my 4 ½ years, these were the only intentional things I saw. There was a lot of talk about doing it, as there is in this thread, but to my knowledge it was almost never done.

If we did anything it was screwing with the condiment amounts. “Extra mayo? I’ll give you extra mayo…”

Far more troubling were the people who just couldn’t understand the concept of food safety: Breaking up the ice in the ice machine with the trash compacting tool, peeing in the mop sink, fingerbanging female employees in between making burgers, endless ass-scratching, that one guy who always kept his hands down his pants, 5-second rules extended to ten minutes, not washing hands after using the bathroom, you name it. This sort of thing went on constantly.

Also, there are strict rules for how long you can keep food around in the various staging areas (steamers, heat lamps, heat drawers) and they were almost NEVER followed. Most of the time food sat around until it was served, even if those half-cooked fish patties were sitting in the drawer half the night.
posted by bondcliff at 6:00 AM on June 28, 2007

Most of the thread reflects my experiences in three years at McDonalds. I don't know anyone that spit in the burgers, but I do know that we served food after it was expired and obeyed the "five second rule."

We would also experiment with deep frying happy meal toys. One day, we deep fried an invisible woman figure, only to have her disappear until she was stuck to a fry rack the next day. When bored, we'd also try throwing food and getting it stuck to the wall (my personal best was a piece of tomato), but we never served that food.

Also, giant pancakes. (Yes, I made a pancake so big I couldn't flip it.)
posted by drezdn at 6:12 AM on June 28, 2007

This is a great thread.

I worked at a family fun center off and on for about 4 years. I was in the kitchen. We made pizzas and burgers and the like.

Like everyone else, the worst we did (and we were some douchebag kids) was leave food out too long and serve it or treat expiration dates as 'suggestions'.

The worst thing that happened while I worked there was that one of my friends lost one of her fake nails while making a pizza. We couldn't find the nail, so we tossed the pizza, just in case. Of course, then the customer yelled at us because it took twice as long for his pizza. Jerk.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:46 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked for a semester at the campus fast-food type dining hall. The only rotten thing I was ever asked to was put a pot of accidentally-made decaf coffee out as regular. I refused, and the coffee drinkers understood the slight delay for real coffee.
posted by mkb at 6:51 AM on June 28, 2007

I know a person who use to manage a KFC in the 1970s and he told me that the food was handled pretty well except, on occasion, shit would happen. This was always tied into his telling of the joke where a man goes to heaven and asks St. Peter "what was the most disgusting thing I ate?" and St. Peter says "do you really want to know?" Also, this story screams urban legend but I trust the person the story came from.

One day, a worker came in to work and was extremely high. He decided that it would be a good idea to piss in the coleslaw. The coleslaw came in giant tubs and the worker needed to go to the bathroom but didn't want to go to the actual bathroom. Using druggie logic and also without an ill intent, he pissed in the coleslaw. This was witnessed by one or two other people. Those people didn't tell anyone else and the coleslaw entered into public consumption and was served that night. The manager of the KFC didn't find out about the "piss in coleslaw" until a few days later but he did recall that they had no food complaints that night.
posted by Stynxno at 7:04 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked at a Dairy Queen for about 9 months when I was sixteen. The only malicious things we ever did to food were to eachother, not customers. I remember a coworker putting a napkin he blew his nose with into my blizzard. lghuglhuguhghul

You get the idea.
posted by cellphone at 7:14 AM on June 28, 2007

Several months of bouncing between 2 Burger Kings:
Five-second-rule, of course. Serving burgers or fries that had been out a few minutes too long--occasionally out of laziness, to get rid of a customer faster, or clear a long line. But not often. But never anything a day out of date. One longtimer said she'd once spit in someone's burger, but that's it. A roach would be spotted about once a month and ignored. A really rude customer wanting extra-this or only a small amount of that might get their special request taken to a ridiculous extreme.

It was also an open secret that every place in the food court of the nearby shopping mall had a roach problem.
posted by Martin E. at 7:21 AM on June 28, 2007

Idle hands are the devil's playground, order your food when the restaurant is busy and your food won't be intentionally tainted.
posted by Null Pointer and the Exceptions at 7:24 AM on June 28, 2007

Friend of mine in high school worked at McDonalds and had a thirty-second rule, even for the floor.

Dee Extrovert, what is wilderness pepper? My google-fu fails me.

bondcliff, "I'll give you 'extra mayo'" sounds really dirty to me.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:40 AM on June 28, 2007

Wendy's and Godfather's here, over 20 years ago now. No deliberate tampering that I knew of.

I'll echo the point about Wendy's chili, to a point--I never saw anything truly nasty go in the chili, but that is, indeed, what happens to burgers that have sat on the grill too long. But that's only because my restaurant had strict rules about how long the burgers could sit out--we had no warming cabinet, so the patties could sit out only 3 or 4 minutes before we'd toss 'em in the chili pot.

The worst thing I remember is when I was washing dishes. We'd wash them in soapy water, pump some sanitizing solution over them, then rinse. However, after doing this for about a half hour, I realized the sanitizing solution hose was actually feeding from a pool of stangnant water under the sink instead of the bottle. I corrected the situation, but didn't re-wash the dishes.

The only thing at Godfather's was that it was hellishly hot next to the open, 600 degree ovens, so there was a lot of sweat dripping on the pizzas.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:49 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked for a very short time at a McDonald's when I was in high school. I never at any time noticed any deliberate tampering with the food, but it was VERY common for employees to be coughing & sneezing without covering their mouths / noses and without washing their hands. It was not uncommon for someone to sneeze directly into the fry bin.

So, I agree with those who say that a general lack of hygeine is probably a much more common issue than deliberate food tampering. That said, I would never deliberately piss off someone who can spend some private time with something you are about to eat, fast food or not.
posted by tastybrains at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked for four years at a fast food place in a small town (they're known for ice cream but we had the grill, too). I also worked all the lines at various times so I saw how everything got prepared. Nobody ever intentionally did anything bad to the food.

There were joking things done like adding extra mustard to someone's hamburger that was being rude. Or 'forgetting' the extra pickles because they swore at the drive through girl because they couldn't hear her over their loud muffler. And things like that truly are the worst things we ever did.

Like others have said, there were lots of threats made to each other about what we would do if we had the chance, but the owner was an awesome guy and it was a small town. No one ever did it.

The grease was changed every night and we would try new concoctions after we closed and before we changed it. We never did serve food that fell on the floor either and everything was made fresh to order, so there was never a worry about something being served after being left out too long.
posted by schnee at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2007

First job: doughnut shop. Lots of irresponsible behaviour (day-old doughnut fights -- ouch!) but no messing with the food. Dough is also pretty cheap, so if something was dropped, into the garbage it went.

Second job: truck stop (first as dishwasher, then waiter, then cook). Again, no intentional messing with the food, but here there was some corner-cutting. And once, waiting forever for some spaghetti and meatballs, watching the customers grow more and more angry, I walked into the kitchen to find the cook using the dishwasher's wand to hose down some meatballs that had been used in another (unserved) dish with a different sauce. Stunning in the moment, but that was it.
posted by dreamsign at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2007

McDonald's for me, and exactly the same - food left out too long got served, etc. Of particular note I thought was that say you made two ice creams and then it turned out only one was needed, we were supposed to scrape the ice cream off the cone back into the big vat it came from in the machine to be re-processed/re-used. That...was kinda gross. Same with orange juice, if I remember correctly.

So no malice, just management cutting corners, and occasional laziness on our part (I didn't handle food other than fries though, there was a strict "girls up front, boys in back on grills" policy at our place, sigh). We usually messed with each other again - being on the late shift on drive-thru with the headsets was the only bearable part of the job.
posted by livii at 8:12 AM on June 28, 2007

Funny to see all of the fellow food-service workers. I'd echo the sentiment that you should treat your waiters/servers/lackeys/whoever well. It'll come back to benifit you, especially if you end up being a regular. And don't feel weird about sending your compliments to the chef. They'll almost always get back to him/her.

That said, I worked at a greasey spoon diner through high school. Same deal, some corner cutting, but we wouldn't fuck with your food. Worst customer gets the worst service though.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:14 AM on June 28, 2007

Am I the only one who finds this thread oddly uplifting??? When I posted my Big Boy experience, I was sure I would be the exception to the "mess with the food" rule. But it looks like deliberate tampering is surprisingly (and fortunately) rare. It restores my faith in human nature. Or something.

But, the other night I drove through my neighborhood Wendy's close to closing time. I had misgivings about the timing. My misgivings were confirmed when I got home and saw my single with cheese contained a burger patty that was obviously a holdover from much busier times.

I also wonder if McDonald's deliberately changed the layout of their kitchen to prevent tampering. Years ago, all the cooking took place behind a partition; you could just see the heads of the workers. Now, the kitchen is is turned so you can see every step of the food prep process. I think most major fast food chains are set up for maximum visibility to the kitchen. I prefer it that way.
posted by The Deej at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked at a McDonalds in Germany for several months. There was a lot of accidental food contamination and, yes, intentional sabotage and pollution of food. Since then I have been vegetarian.
posted by meehawl at 8:24 AM on June 28, 2007

Back in HS, I worked a McDonalds. One of the grill cooks would test the grill by spitting on it.

Another time, a manager dropped a whole tray of toasted buns on the floor. He just ran the faces of the buns over the grill for a second or two and went ahead and used them.

Back then, there was no such thing as workers wearing gloves, so everything was handled by bare hands by people in various stages of health (or ill health) *cough, cough..sniff...wipe*
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 AM on June 28, 2007

News story about Burger King employees messing with burgers.
posted by yohko at 9:16 AM on June 28, 2007

Many smaller restaurants (whole-in-the-wall) places can have serious health issues: mice, roaches, broken fridges, etc. Often they don't have the money to fix things or renovate, or hire competent kitchen staff. Busier, higher-volume places are going to be safer.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:35 AM on June 28, 2007

Our local Burger King had an incident where a cop did tests on a burger that he ordered and found saliva in it.

The BK was either shut down because of this or just went out of business because no one wanted to eat there afterwards (who can blame them).

I do miss BK, though.
posted by boreddusty at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2007

One thing I think hasn't been addressed: the "five-second rule" isn't just a fast-food thing. It happens at 'quality' restaurants, too, and I suspect with far more frequency because the ingredients are more expensive.

I had a friend who worked as a waitress at a very expensive country club restaurant (technically they called it a 'dining room,' not a restaurant -- you pay a membership not for your food directly) and was working a big banquet and accidentally slipped and dropped a tray of desserts. Not sure exactly what they were, but the manager came over and the two of them just re-plated as many of them off the floor as they could and got them out to the guests. It was never spoken of later.

So again, I think that there's more "messing around" that occurs in the name of time-savings (and, sometimes, in not pissing the customers off -- better to serve them food that hit the floor then keep them around for another 15 minutes while it gets remade, during which they'll scream at you), than in malice.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 AM on June 28, 2007

I would advise not to eat at a fast food restaurant right before closing time. The employees quit cooking anything as early as possible so they can get out quick. The possibility of getting food that hasn't been handled correctly is very high.
posted by Quonab at 10:46 AM on June 28, 2007

[Note: I'm answering before I've read any of the other responses.]

I worked in a Dairy Queen on and off for about four years in the late eighties and early nineties, when I was in my teens. I never did anything to anyone's food, nor did I observe or hear about anyone else doing anything. We would talk about doing something to the food of especially obnoxious customers from time to time, but in a blowing-off-steam way, not in an actually-considering-doing-that way.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:04 AM on June 28, 2007

Am I the only one who finds this thread oddly uplifting???
True, but Metafilter readers/commenters are hardly a representative slice of the workforce so this might not reflect the true situation.
posted by Flashman at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2007

I worked for a summer at a movie theater concession stand in Houston about 14 years ago (the Cineplex Odeon Spectrum 9, don't know if it is still open). Since the popcorn, hot dogs and such were right in front of the customers, there was no messing with food (although I remember a couple people on their last day took a handful of popcorn, licked it, and threw it back in the popcorn machine when no customers were around). But, as everyone has said, cutting corners and hygiene were issues, no doubt (old hot dogs/buns, stale nachos and cheese that had been sitting around for longer than it should have, workers probably not washing their hands).

The worst things that we high school kid workers would do is reuse cups. The management took inventory of the cups, popcorn bags, packaged candy and hot dogs every night, so if you had a drink during work, you would wash the cup and put it back (these were, of course, fast food style paper cups). Or if someone came in on their day off to see a movie, you'd give them a couple drinks and they'd bring them back after the movie; rinse, and then use them for a customer's drink.

The two somewhat gross practices were actually mandated by the management. In the evening, one of the jobs of the people closing was to clean out the popcorn machine. You'd put the popcorn in a big trash bag and tie it up. Next morning, the opening crew dumped that back in the machine, and voila, that's your first batch of popcorn (mixed in, of course, with a fresh batch or two, to disguise it). That didn't bug me so much; stale popcorn is not going to make anybody sick, it is just something of a rip-off for the customers.

The really sick thing, though, bugged the hell out of me. We had those big bulk candy containers, where customers would scoop out whoppers and gummi bears and what-have-you and buy it by the pound. Besides being a total freaking rip-off, customers were always spilling out lots of candy on the ground. Well, the managers made us sweep it up and put it in the "Super Mix" container. When they weren't around, we'd just throw it out. I remember once when one of the managers gave me a big bag of candy that had been sitting in the stock room for months told me to clean it off and put it in the super mix. He actually told me to "scrape the mold" off of it. It was covered in dirt and grime; I think the gummi bears had actually come to life and formed a society. When he left, I just tossed it all out. They finally stopped doing that when a new girl complained and said she'd call the health department.

The local managers were so sketchy. I was very happy when I learned that they all got fired because someone stole 10k out of the office safe and the regional bosses couldn't figure out who so they just replaced the whole lot of them.
posted by papakwanz at 12:08 PM on June 28, 2007

Am I the only one who finds this thread oddly uplifting???
True, but Metafilter readers/commenters are hardly a representative slice of the workforce so this might not reflect the true situation.
posted by Flashman

Ya, it's MeFites... which makes it particularly uplifting! HA!
posted by The Deej at 12:29 PM on June 28, 2007

In chronological order:

Tios Mexican— Never any spitting. The one guy, Tony, our heroin-addict token, who spit in something was fired on the spot. However, I do know that about three times a month there'd be someone who would be enough of a dick to get a drop of Dave's Insanity or Endorphin Rush hot sauce in their food, and the stock response was always that we didn't know how it happened, but sometimes pepper bits got in, sir, and we'd be happy to remake it. I do remember one back-and-forth with some douchebag wanting his delivery food remade twice, after we were supposed to be closed. He ended up with floor sweepings in his tacos (which looked like taco filling, honestly). But the customary answer for most folks was just to tell them to fuck off, since we were always busy enough that we didn't need them giving us shit to deal with. Oh, and if you brush the propellor of the shake mixer against the wall of the wax cup, it will cut a hole that will only leak 20-or-so minutes after being given to a customer (once the shake has melted enough). Aside from bizarre, retaliatory portions ("You want extra cheese? You can choke on extra cheese!"), this was pretty much the extent of our mischief.

The Back Room— Shitty pizza made by stoned high schoolers and illegal immigrants under the watchful eye of a coked-out meglomaniac. We wasted nothing, food safety be damned. I quit about six months before it was bought by different folks. Nothing intentional ever happened, and the pizza was dirt cheap.

Marco's Pizza— Shitty pizza made by middle-aged burnouts under the watchful eye of a drunken Korean who barely spoke English and had decidedly foreign views on food safety and quality. Since we got a LOT LOT LOT of rip-off orders and people fucking with us, as well as folks who would just stiff us, there was a lot of staff-on-customer hatred, but very little intentionally done to food. It was mostly the meat that people fucked with, and it was mostly of the rub-it-on-your-balls variety, always pre-oven. But old dough or toppings or whatever was always used, since I don't think we threw out anything, at least for food safety reasons. The vast majority of retribution came from throwing either the 2-ounce cups of sauce at someone's car or house (which it would strip or stain), or throwing wads of uncooked dough onto their roofs. The dough was yeasted, and would turn into these giant balloons if left at room temperature, and would clog gutters and leave weird gummy clumps of shit. But these things were rarely done by me, because people seemed to tip me and I was content to just swear at the ones who didn't. I quit that job because I was sick of hearing the racist bullshit from my coworkers about my neighborhood. (The owner, Mr. Kim, was a font of fun, since he had no idea about American liquor laws or prohibited substances. He'd gather us underage drivers around and get us loaded on cheap whiskey at the beginning of our shifts, and we had to tell him that marijuana was illegal after his halting attempts to buy it at the tobacco shop next door.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:39 PM on June 28, 2007

The book Trainspotting has a funny/disgusting example. Let's just say I'd skip the tomato soup.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2007

Like The Deej, I worked at a Big Boy one summer. We were all kids too. In retrospect I guess it's surprising, but everyone treated the food, the customers, and the premises with professionalism and respect. Plenty of shenanigans took place, but they were after hours and offsite.
posted by tangerine at 1:52 PM on June 28, 2007

Worked at several Papa Johns Pizza while in college. Pretty decent places - made very good tips until they added a delivery fee :(

No real horror stories (their ingredients really are fresh), but the one thing I remember is asking the boss why we didn't wear gloves to make the pizzas (after answering phones, tending register, cleaning, etc). He said the oven is hot enough to kill anything...

Story from a co-worker there: at PJ's, we used a drill with a huge attachment to stir 5 gallon buckets of pizza sauce. Co-worker came from a rival pizza co. and said the manager would just reach his hairy arm into the bucket to stir it up!
posted by JimBobNoPants at 2:31 PM on June 28, 2007

I worked at Domino's for a couple of years, and I never saw any intentional adulteration of the food -- I don't even remember the 5 second rule, but perhaps the use of it was so unremarkable at the time that I forgot about it. We had a manager we liked, though, and the store was pretty well-run.

The worst thing we did was have dough-ball fights with the Godfather's workers from across the street. But no one ever scooped up that dough and tried to cook it. The dough fight fun stopped with the regional managers showed up and complained about bits of dough in our parking lot.
posted by litlnemo at 6:37 PM on June 28, 2007

As a follow up, here's a story about an intentionally tainted salty burger served to a cop.
posted by acoutu at 3:46 PM on September 9, 2007

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