Chipotle has had a rough month. Two foodborne illness outbreaks, 172 sick customers, and at least 60 restaurant closures later, the burrito chain is trying to claw its way out from the mountain of rubble that used to be their high standing as a leader in food transparency and high standards. Chipotle co-CEO and founder Steve Ells is addressing his company’s food safety scandal for the first time. He has taken out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and the Boston Globe, and addressed the issue in an interview on the Today Show. The message is the same:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize on behalf of all of us at Chipotle, and to thank our loyal customers who have stood by us through this difficult time,” Ells said in the advertisement, addressing specifically the recent norovirus outbreak in Boston. “From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards. But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better. The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry.”
Chipotle is still unsure how the outbreak started, but the company believes that it may have started with bacteria found in fresh produce like tomatoes or cilantro.
The apology is outlined in a clear and comprehensive food safety plan, which we announced last week as Chipotle promised to step up and become leaders in the world of health standards. Ells emphasized that the burrito chain will bear the cost of these new standards and that menu prices will not be affected for the foreseeable future. Here are some of those new standards:
-More vigorous testing within the supply chain with new “industrial strength” safety protocols in place. It is often difficult to spot bacteria in fresh produce. In other chains where the food is cooked and processed, the bacteria will usually be killed off.
-Suppliers who are unwilling to meet with Chipotle’s new safety standards will no longer do business with them.
-Chipotle will also institute high-tech food tracking within restaurant locations including testing produce — particularly tomatoes — to ensure cleanliness.