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Chipotle serves costly food safety lesson

July 25, 2016

It’s not what any food business wants to experience – multiple foodborne outbreaks occurring and harming customers.

As an operator in the food industry, there is a great deal of expectation and responsibility to ensure any food served is safe. When this fails it can have a significant impact on a business’ reputation and profits.

Take the recent case with U.S. fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, who illustrates why food safety should always be top priority for any business, no matter how large or small.

What happened to Chipotle?

In 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill, a popular burrito chain in the United States was linked to several outbreaks of Norovirus (winter vomiting bug), Salmonella and E. coli.

Starting in August 2015, the chain experienced several outbreaks: a Californian store reported 243 Norovirus cases and in Minnesota and Wisconsin there was 64 Salmonella cases detected.

Things continued, with E. coli. outbreaks surfacing between October to November, affecting 60 people across 11 states.

December was the pinnacle point for Chipotle, when it experienced its last large outbreak happening in Boston where 143 Norovirus cases were reported.

Overall, there were 386 Norovirus, 64 Salmonella and 60 E. coli cases found and more than 20 people hospitalised as a result of Chipotle’s foodborne outbreaks in 2015.

The fast food chain discovered a variety of causes for the outbreaks being a combination of poor food handling, food preparation, employee personal hygiene and supplier products.

How were they affected?

As Chipotle’s foodborne outbreaks broke the media headlines, customers noticeably avoided its stores and several sickened customers filed lawsuits.

The burrito chain has been struggling financially since, with its February reported sales at established restaurants down by 26.1 per cent.

According to Fortune, a Wall Street analyst said a full sales recovery at Chipotle could take longer than expected, as customers are still cautious about returning after its food scare.

Morgan Stanley analyst, John Glass warned “A full sales recovery to prior peak volumes could take years in our view” and downgraded his rating on the company’s stock.

Industry analysts have also forecasted a poor 2016 result, expecting Chipotle’s full year sales to be around $4.18 billion, down from $4.5 billion earned last year.

How did they react?

Once the outbreaks surfaced Chipotle took swift action by closing 43 stores in the affected areas to investigate and fight further contamination, demonstrating their commitment to putting their customers needs first over sales.

The chain not only implemented immediate food safety retraining and deep cleaning of its stores, but also hired two food safety consulting firms to assess its standards and improve product safety.

Company founder and co-Chief Executive, Steve Ells also commented on Chipotle’s food safety plans and said it would spend up to $10 million to help produce safer meat and vegetables from its smaller suppliers and implement the chain’s new food safety standards.

Food safety shouldn’t be taken for granted

As illustrated by Chipotle, one of the U.S. largest food chains, food safety should always be a top priority and invested heavily in. Poor food handling, hygiene and supplier partnerships can have a negative and lasting impact on a company’s brand and its survival.

So, don’t let this happen to your business and avoid a food safety scare today. Learn more about our nationally recognised food safety courses to help protect your customers and your business.