A viral video shared to social media app TikTok jokingly labeled “exposing Panera” might have cost a woman her job – and unleashed a fury of criticism about how much of Panera Bread’s “clean” food is actually frozen.
The clip, which has since amassed over 6 million views and nearly a million likes, shows a Panera Bread worker placing a frozen bag that contains the company’s macaroni and cheese into a vat of boiling water, set to a man hysterically cackling.
The employee cuts open the bag, places its insides into the bowl, and ends the video with a grinning thumbs-up.
The response to the video on TikTok was mixed: One called Panera “glorified hospital food,” while others joked that they’ll still eat it even if it originated from frozen packaging. (One commenter said: “alright but it’s GOOD hospital food.”)
Panera spokeswoman Jessica Hesselschwerdt confirmed to USA TODAY that Panera does indeed freeze its soups and mac and cheese “to avoid using certain preservatives that do not meet our clean standards.”
“We want to make sure that if you’re in Massachusetts or California or in any one of our 2,100 locations that you get that same awesome experience,” she told USA TODAY. “This is how we are efficient and how we make it consistent. We want that experience to be great, and that’s the best way to do it.”
Once the video went viral, she posted multiple videos to quell the backlash: In one, she defends Panera’s practice of re-heating frozen food: “There’s not a reason not to eat it,” she said. “Most stores have frozen food … and you’ll still eat it.”
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In another, she tearfully apologized: “I like my job, I’m really not trying to get fired.”
On Friday, the poster confirmed on Twitter that “she lost (her) job for this video.” She explained in another follow-up TikTok video that “I was told we had to part ways” due to the original clip going viral beyond any measure.
Hesselschwerdt did not comment on whether the woman was fired by the company, stating that Panera does “not discuss personnel matters.”
The worker did not immediately respond to requests for comment from USA TODAY.
Panera ranked in the Top 10 earlier this year as one of the top 10 U.S. chains, outpacing Pizza Hut for the No. 10 position.
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