Taco Bell said the taco shells licked by an employee in a viral photo were not served to customers and "were in the process of being thrown out," but the employee has been fired.

The product is presumably Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, which were released in March. A photo of a man in uniform in a Taco Bell restaurant is seen licking a stack of about 30 taco shells.

"Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product," Taco Bell said in a statement on its website. "The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable. This image was clearly unacceptable - it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it. But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee's policies, and it emerged online in social media."

The company, owned by Yum! Brands!, said it is continuing its investigation and the franchisee is cooperating fully.