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Chipotle accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of misleading the public with its frequent updates of the chain’s food safety problems in 2015 — particularly the outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus that sickened at least 198 people.
In the aftermath of its food safety issues, Chipotle’s reputation as a brand was considerably tarnished, with a steep drop in stock and disastrous fourth quarter that forced the company to withhold cash bonuses from executives “due to the challenges and performance for 2015.”
Part of its troubled performance last year, according to a lawyer for Chipotle, was due to CDC notices to the public about the chain that acted “to create public panic,” and in some cases, made it appear as though E. coli was continuing to spread when it was not. In February, the CDC announced that two outbreaks of E. coli linked to Chipotle appeared to be over.
In response to the accusations, the CDC posted a letter in response on April 15, refuting the claims and stating that the agency only provided the public with important information about what to do if a person became sick after eating Chipotle.
“CDC believes that the web postings served to protect and inform the public as well as inform public health and regulatory partners at the federal, state, and local level about this ongoing outbreak investigation in three ways,” the agency wrote. “First, information provided in these web postings provided people who may have become ill after eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill locations with information they might need to seek diagnosis and treatment for a potentially serious illness (E. coli O26 infection); medical attention would also entail provision of information on measures to prevent secondary transmission of STEC infection to other close contacts such as family members. Second, this information also could assist in identifying additional ill people who might provide critical information essential to determine the specific cause of the outbreak. Third, the web postings provided information the public might use to protect themselves by choosing to avoid certain food exposures associated with the outbreak.”