By: Kiyoko Osone
Chipotle’s misfortune has been in the news a great deal lately. For those who have not been following may ask, what is the outrage about anyway?
Chipotle’s stock this year has fallen over two-thirds, which is a steep dive from a company whose motto is “Food with Integrity”. The cause of Chipotle’s downfall can be mainly attributed to the mismanagement and lack attentiveness towards the handling of food outbreaks. During another outbreak this year, one of its locations closed in Boston as the Norovirus caused more than 100 sicknesses.
According to the Motley Fool, there were multiple cases throughout the year of 2015 as “before the nationwide E. coli outbreak at the end of the year, Chipotle had also experienced a salmonella infection in Minnesota that sickened 64 people, a Norovirus outbreak in California that infected more than 200 people, and a smaller E. coli outbreak in Seattle”. Instead of responding to the outbreak with due diligence, the company reportedly blaming the CDC and media reporting methods. There seems to be a barrier in transparency, yet “Food with Integrity”. Chipotle has a history of five main E. coli outbreaks, each ranging from affecting 5 people to 230 per instance. The most recent outbreak was July 2017 in Virginia in conjunction with the Norovirus. A few days later, a viral video of rodents falling from ceilings in Chipotle restaurants filmed in Dallas was released. The video calls attention to how food safety is vital part of a restaurant chain’s success– that the responsibility not only lies within creating culture and good food, but also keeping those they serve safe.
Public health and food safety dealing with one of the most popular food chains that directly influences popular culture is bound to stir some controversial outrage, which will be difficult to some to stomach.
What is E. coli and the Norovirus (Winter Vomiting Bug)?
E.coli on its own, in contrast to public opinion, exists in harmony with the rest of the bacteria in the human intestines. The main issue with infections is consuming harmful E.coli that exists outside our microbiome from other animal intestines, feces, and raw meats. Symptoms of E.coli infections are abdominal cramping, diarrhea, bloody stools, fever, and fatigue. In severe cases, kidney failure and dehydration is common, probably due to the excess diarrhea and lack of replenishment of fluids.
The E.coli outbreaks were typically accompanied by the Norovirus, which exacerbated the symptoms such as via the Boston and Simi Valley outbreak. The Norovirus induces similar symptoms to E.coli, such as diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It adds another level of gastrointestinal distress as it however, induces vomiting. Also known as the “Winter Vomiting Bug” and “food poisoning”, it is more prominent during cold months due to undercooked raw fruits, vegetables, and oysters. It is not a flu as it does not affect the respiratory system, but can be spread via contact with contaminated surfaces to nose, mouths, and eyes. Noroviruses are highly contagious and thrive via closed quarters such as restaurants, day cares, and nursing homes. Symptoms typically elapse after three miserable days.
How is it treated?
There are no known medications that directly treat E.coli even though it is a bacterium. Typically rest and rehydrating fluids are prescribed. On the other hand, there are no known treatments to treat the Norovirus, as it is indeed a virus and antibiotics are ineffective. The same treatment maintains, of fluids and rest.
Recap of the incidence
While no one was directly killed via the Chipotle outbreaks, it is a cause of concern to how the restaurant handles public health and safety.
The highlights of Chipotle’s growth as a company are mainly attributed to its capaciousness, in its desire to expand. Unlike most fast-food chains, Chipotle does not franchise, meaning that each decision or location is a direct order from corporate. The lack of management especially during this time period, with its main focus on exponentially expanding the food chain for greater profits instead of maintaining its service at its existing locations lead to its ultimate demise.
Its main response or comeback to the food outbreak, Chipotle is convinced that its Food with Integrity is the way it will pull through from food borne quagmire as it focuses on delivering whole fresh foods, raised from farmers which apparently seems ethical though it is not vegan or Whole Foods that directly caters to a niche market of health-conscious individuals.
While some news outlets, such as Huffington Post, defend Chipotle as all fast-food chains are a double-gamble with health, that outbreaks are bound to happen more often than say Michelin starred restaurants, at least Chipotle is trying. It now the time to magically believe in its mission, the stock prices and the company image is almost irreparably damaged. That is, until Chipotle does something stratospherically amazing, with a burrito.
Moral of the story, please put people not profits first.