Chipotle Mexican Grill is introducing a new food safety program amid reports that a series of food poisoning outbreaks have driven customers away.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed that nearly a quarter of Americans who have heard of the outbreaks are eating less at the Mexican chain’s more than 1,900 locations. But the company says its new safety program will put it “at the forefront of food safety practices” in the industry.
“While it is never possible to completely eliminate all risk, this program eliminates or mitigates risk to a level near zero, and will establish Chipotle as the industry leader in this area,” said Mansour Samadpour, CEO of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, in a statement. IEH designed the new program with Chipotle.
The restaurant says it plans to introduce DNA testing of ingredients to look for contamination and take additional steps to kill any bacteria in food. Onions will be immersed in boiling water, chicken will be marinated in sealable bags, and cilantro will be added to still-hot rice to kill any germs, according to an Associated Press report.
Other ingredients like cheese and tomatoes will arrive at restaurants already chopped or shredded, the AP reported–a seeming about-face from previous efforts by the company, which is known for preparing fresh, healthy food on-site in the interest of taste.
About 50 people fell ill in a nine-state outbreak of E. coli tied to the restaurants in October, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has opened an investigation into a second possible outbreak in November. In an apparently unrelated outbreak, dozens of Boston College students fell ill with norovirus after dining at a Chipotle location.
The October outbreak shut dozens of restaurants and caused November sales to fall about 16%, according to the AP. The company’s stock is trading just below $500, well off summer highs above $750 per share.