When Steve Ells opened his small mexican grill in Denver, Colorado, 23 years ago, he probably had no idea what it was going to become. Today, Chipotle Mexican Grill is a major chain of restaurants and owns more than 2,000 locations. Apart from being specialized in Mexican food, Chipotle has built its reputation on using fresh ingredients grown locally and has always rejected the use of genetically modified products.
Unfortunately, 2015 will be remembered as the year of food contamination outbreaks for the company. In Seattle, last July, five customers got sick because of the E. Coli bacterium, and it was just the beginning. Since then, several outbreaks have been reported. In August, 234 people (both employees and customers) got sick in Simi Valley, California, and 136 more in Boston last December. Both outbreaks were caused by a norovirus (a highly contagious gastroenteritis), probably spread by infected employees who ignored the company's safety policies in case of sickness, according to Chipotle.
Minnesota was affected too, with 64 people treated for salmonella in August. Then E. Coli made its comeback in October and affected 53 people, mostly in Oregon and Washington, and five cases were reported in November in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma. All victims had been eating at a Chipotle restaurant just hours or days before getting ill. All in all, more than 500 people were infected in a way or another.
As Chipotle's Director of Public relations Chris Arnold explained to The New York Times, "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", adding "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."
Then Arnold concludes: "We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing, and answer questions from employees." All Chipotle restaurants will therefore be closed on Monday 8 February but are due to reopen around 3 p.m. the same day.
Photos: Chipotle on Twitter
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