Chipotle is addressing concerns over the safety of its food after a series of food poisoning outbreaks in 2015 by closing all of its restaurants for a few hours on a day in February for a company-wide food safety meeting.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Chipotle was connected to outbreaks of norovirus, E. coli, and salmonella which sickened hundreds across several states, including: Washington, Oregon, Kansas, North Dakota, California, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts. From July to December, health officials tracked the outbreaks to Chipotle restaurants across the nation.
As a result, at least nine lawsuits were filed against Chipotle after people became ill from eating at the restaurants. More lawsuits could be pending, according to Bill Marler, a food safety litigator in Seattle.
“I represent a total of 75 people, but I haven’t filed all their lawsuits yet,” Marler claims.
Fox News reported that federal authorities subpoenaed Chipotle as part of a criminal investigation connected to another norovirus outbreak in California last summer.
After the jarring food health concerns, Chipotle sales dipped 30 percent and its stock price nose dived almost 40 percent.
To counter the ill effects of the foodborne illnesses and resulting financial damage, Chipotle hired a food safety expert. It has changed the way employees handle food and has caused Chipotle to test produce before it is shipped to stores. Executives want the risk of another food scare to be “near zero.” The company also has plans to revitalize its marketing campaign to draw customers back to the restaurant.
In February, Chipotle executives plan to start “inviting customers back” to restaurants with improved marketing and direct mail offers. While food safety won’t be the focus of the marketing, there could be a “clever headline” to mention it.
Chipotle restaurants will close on February 8 for a few hours for a food safety meeting. Chris Arnold, the company’s spokesman, said all staff will be involved in the meeting and a range of issues will be covered.
In an email, Arnold explained what some of the Chipotle meeting on February 8 will cover.
“We want to thank our teams for all of their hard work, to discuss some of the changes we are making to enhance food safety, to talk about the restaurants [sic] role in all of that and to answer questions from employees.”
While Chipotle recovers from the outbreaks, Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung knows the financial clean up will be “messy.” Chipotle will have to put investments into food safety and marketing, which will likely take away from profits.
Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells, while at an investment conference in Orlando, Florida, said Chipotle plans to allow customers to see food preparation as they made orders just as it did in the past. This type of service set Chipotle apart from other fast food Mexican restaurants and gave customers the feeling of having fresh ingredients in their meals.
Ells believes the Chipotle brand can be rebuilt and will be stronger than ever before, reinforced by the stance that Chipotle has always focused on food safety. Ells remains confident that customers will come back to Chipotle when they regain confidence in the restaurant chain.
Centers for Disease Control have not yet found a direct reason for the E. coli outbreaks, according to the New York Daily News. Chipotle is not sure what ingredient could have caused the outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, either.
[Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images News]