On Dec. 30, 2020, a TikTok user posted a most unappetizing food video: a clip of a rodent, possibly a rat, on the floor of what was alleged to be a McDonald's restaurant. The rodent was captured while eating scraps next to a food-prep area. The scraps looked to be french fries and either a hamburger bun or a hash brown patty.
The words displayed on the video said: "They fired me so blow this up." A commenter asked for the location of the McDonald's, and the TikToker answered: "Donegal, PA."
Another commenter asked why the employee was fired, and the TikToker responded: "Illegal hours low staff I was always working, I'm only 17 and had illegal overtime." It was unclear when the video was originally recorded.
A second TikTok video showed the rodent caught between two clear cups with Coca-Cola imprints.
Another person is visible in the video and appeared to also be capturing photos or videos.
We attempted to verify that the video was taken in the Donegal McDonald's restaurant and reached out to the TikTok user, McDonald's corporate communications team, and the state health department for details and confirmation. Below is what we learned:
Both videos that appeared to show a rat were subsequently made private. (We excluded the TikToker's name from this story because the user is a minor.) The same TikTok user who posted the rodent videos had also shared at least one other older clip that was recorded in a McDonald's kitchen.
We reached out to the TikTok user but did not hear back. MAAK ALAMO LLC, the local owner and operator of the McDonald's restaurant in Donegal, Pennsylvania, did not explicitly confirm the video depicted a scene in that restaurant but shared this statement: "Our restaurant adheres to strict cleanliness and safety guidelines, and we take this matter very seriously. We are committed to addressing any issues and ensuring our standards are being continuously met."
McDonald's told us that, in accordance with local regulations, the Donegal restaurant is subject to regular inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. We were also told that the most recent inspection found the location to be in compliance with the department’s standards for cleanliness and safety, and that the restaurant contracts with a third-party service to provide preventative pest management in order to protect against any potential issues.
"The PA Food Code, Pennsylvania’s food safety law, which is based on the FDA Model Food Code, requires that the restaurant be free of vermin," Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, told us. She added that they planned to investigate the matter. "Vermin are one of the issues that would prompt food-safety inspectors to close a restaurant based on the imminent risk to human health."
Stories about rodents in fast-food restaurants are nothing new, whether it's questionable claims of a batter-fried rat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, horse and rat meat being served at Wendy's, or a rat head being served at Popeyes Chicken. Dunkin' (formerly Dunkin' Donuts) also had a history of purported rodent issues. There's also "pizza rat," of course.
As we reported throughout 2020, TikTok users posted no shortage of videos by food workers, including at Starbucks and Taco Bell. The video platform appeared to become the employee favorite for showing behind-the-scenes happenings in restaurants and stores.