After months of food poisoning reports and falling sales, Chipotle will hold a company-wide food safety meeting next month. On February 8, all stores nationwide will be closed for part of the day for training related to safe ingredient preparation.
“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 restaurant’s role in all of that and to answer questions from employees,” Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold told the Oregonian.
The company’s troubles began last summer, when reports of E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks began to surface across the country. According to the New York Times, a minimum of six incidents have cropped up since July. The salmonella outbreak stemmed from fresh tomatoes, Chipotle found, and the norovirus infection was caused by sick workers–but the company has yet to figure out where the E. coli infection originated. Last week, Chipotle also revealed that it had received a grand jury subpoena during the investigation of a norovirus outbreak in California.
Chipotle’s stock has plunged in the meantime, and many customers are taking their business elsewhere. This past quarter, sales decreased by 14.6%–a steeper drop than Chipotle expected, the Times reports.
Some suggested that Chipotle may have fallen prey to food-borne illnesses in part due to the company’s commitment to using locally sourced ingredients–a mission that set the company apart from its fast-food peers, but also meant restaurant workers were doing more cooking on-site. But the more likely scenario is that Chipotle’s emphasis on local ingredients shifted its focus from food safety standards. Now Chipotle has overhauled its preparation process to take additional precautions, like washing and cutting organic lettuce prior to shipping; shredding cheese and cutting tomatoes before the ingredients reach stores; and blanching onions, avocados, and jalapeños in boiling water.
“If there’s a silver lining in this, it is that by not knowing for sure what the cause is, it’s prompted us to look at every ingredient we use with an eye to improving our practices,” Arnold told the Times. “We did a really comprehensive review of food safety practices from farm to restaurants. From that assessment we developed a food safety plan which we hope will establish Chipotle as a leader in food safety.”
[via the Chicago Tribune]