By: James Peacock                                                                                   Follow our blog with Bloglovin

Chipotle is an incredibly popular restaurant chain. It grew from just one store in 1993 to more than 2,000 today. And it grew for good reasons, the food is delicious and it is pretty healthy for the price. I, however, have not eaten at Chipotle in years. The reasons for this should be fairly obvious.

Chipotle, for whatever reason, can’t seem to get it together. Major companies and corporations causing foodborne illness outbreaks are not by any means uncommon. Blue Bell sickened 10 people in 2015 in a deadly Listeria outbreak. Jimmy Johns infected people with Norovirus earlier this year. Dole caused a Listeria outbreak, General Mills sickened people with E. coli, and Nestle caused an E. coli outbreak. The list of major companies causing foodborne illness outbreaks goes on and on. But the only company to be consistently causing outbreaks is Chipotle. The propensity for Chipotle to have outbreaks is coupled with the high rates at which they cause individual illnesses. The website iwaspoisoned.com, a foodborne illness crowdsourcing site, has tracked Chipotle’s reported illnesses for some time. In the charts depicted above, it is shown by the data that Chipotle, even under the best of circumstances has 9 times the reported cases of illness when compared to their competitors. This data shows that foodborne illnesses are an endemic problem for Chipotle, and the outbreaks that occur aren’t simply bad luck but an inevitability. When Chipotle causes an outbreak, though, we aren’t talking about small ones.

Let’s Look At The Outbreaks, Shall We?

In 2008, Chipotle sickened 509 with Norovirus in Kent, Ohio. In that same year, a Hepatitis A outbreak that sickened 22 was linked to a Chipotle location in California. Minnesota was the site of the next Chipotle blunder, where in 2009 11 people were sickened by Campylobacter. Chipotle locations in Colorado and New York were linked to an outbreak of E. coli that sickened 29 in 2009. And that’s just the warmup.

The real problems began in 2015. Five people were sickened with E. coli in Seattle in July. A Chipotle location in Ventura, California caused 234 people to become ill with Norovirus. Twenty-two different Chipotle locations in Minnesota contributed to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 64 people across that state. The CDC opened an investigation into two separate multistate E. coli outbreaks later that year. The first one sickened 53 people in nine different states across the nation and caused the temporary closure of 43 locations in the Pacific Northwest. The second one was much smaller, only sickening five people, and was centered in the Midwest.

All of these outbreaks have not only hurt the stomachs of consumers, but it has obliterated Chipotle’s stock price. Between August 2015 and January 2016, Chipotle’s stock was virtually cut in half. It was such a fall that they are only just now starting to recover from it. Well, they were starting to recover from it, until the Virginia outbreak. Chipotle stock fell another 14 percent in the wake of the newest outbreak. Thankfully for Chipotle, fairly strong sales in the second quarter of this year have halted the stock price decline, and have even allowed it to bounce back a little.

Addressing Each Facet of this Outbreak

 To Chipotle’s Corporate Office It never bodes well to blame the restaurant staff for an outbreak. True, an employee may be the source, but let’s face the facts – the company as a whole is responsible. Simply educating workers about your policies isn’t going to prevent them from working while sick. If an employee is legitimately sick, I can assure you, with almost 100 percent certainty, that going to work is very far down the list of things that that employee wants to be doing. Recently, you have said regarding your food safety measures: “When followed, they work perfectly.” The key phrasing here is “when followed”. It’s become clear, in the aftermath of the outbreak, that Chipotle’s procedures aren’t being followed. There have been numerous reports of Chipotle employees being forced to work while being sick. Sure, there may be a zero tolerance policy, but in practice the facts that there are still multiple outbreaks caused by ill employees (and have also received numerous complaints that workers are being forced to work while sick), either points towards more than zero tolerance or a lack of enforcement. Either way, Chipotle needs to get its house in order.

Jim Marsden’s comments on the topic of outbreaks are especially concerning. I’m not sure what kind of crystal ball he may have, but it’s impossible for anyone to know whether or not the Norovirus came from a food supply without testing for it. The fact that Mr. Marsden, who ironically is the Executive Director of Food Safety at Chipotle, was able to say this so early into the investigation– that health officials hadn’t even confirmed that the outbreak was caused by Norovirus– is nothing short of supernatural. While I can’t speak for my colleagues here at UnsafeFoods, I for one would love to know his secret so that I too may be able to identify the source of outbreaks before the investigation confirms the pathogen responsible. Unless, of course, he meant that norovirus can’t contaminate food. If that’s what he meant, here’s some light reading for Chipotle and Mr. Marsden on the subject.

To Chipotle Managers

If an employee is visibly sick or seems sick, it’s probably best to send them home. Sure, it may leave you slightly understaffed until the next shift comes in, but seeing as how Chipotle has fired shift workers and managers in light of employee-caused Norovirus outbreaks, it’s really better for everyone that you avoid potential foodborne illness contamination. When you compare the potential outcomes, having a few hours of understaffing or having to work on the frontline yourself is a much easier price to pay.

To Chipotle Employees

If you feel sick, avoid going in to work at all costs. Find someone to cover your shift. If you can’t, explain to your manager the situation. If they force you to work, you need to take every precaution you can to avoid spreading illness. Wash your hands more often than you think necessary. Double or even triple up on gloves and change them more often than you think necessary. Especially avoid touching your nose and mouth. Also, try to keep you work area completely sanitized at all times. Remember that not everyone will have an infection as mild as yours. By spreading illness to others, especially those at high risk, you are putting them in potential danger.

Conclusion

I’ve been writing about foodborne illness outbreaks for UnsafeFoods for more than 2 years, meaning that I started just before Chipotle’s series of outbreaks. In those two years, whenever I’ve told someone what I do, a majority of the time it is responded to with “Oh, like Chipotle?” Chipotle has backed itself into a major brand recognition problem, and their stock is plummeting because of it. With a major overhaul of their food safety procedures and the application of common sense when it comes to handling ill employees, maybe Chipotle can get it together.

To speak to a food poisoning lawyer.

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