Fast-food chain Chipotle closed its doors for a few hours yesterday, for a company-wide meeting on its recent contamination (E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus) outbreaks. The public was invited to watch the video of the meeting via Twitter or Periscope.
The likely reason behind the salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chipotle officials said in the meeting, was tomatoes. The company stated in the meeting that it no longer dices tomatoes in the individual restaurants — they will instead be prepped in a central kitchen location, along with lettuce and peppers, to prevent cross-contamination.
Other initiatives include Chipotle “shifting some preparation to its central kitchens, blanching ingredients, and making modifications to how it marinates steak and chicken. The company also previously announced a paid-sick leave policy to ensure employees would stay home when they are ill,” says CNBC.
The reason behind the E. coli outbreak is still unclear, but officials pointed the finger at ill employees for the norovirus outbreak. Up until now, employees only received two days of paid sick leave, but now the restaurant chain will pay employees while they stay away from work until five days after the disappearance of the last symptom of their illness. If an employee or customer vomits at a Chipotle restaurant, then the location must be immediately shut down.
The company also revealed its Chipotle Local Grower Support Initiative, which will pledge $10 million that will assist local producers to provide ingredients that meet Chipotle’s new food safety standards through education and enhanced testing techniques. It was also announced that a bonus program will be made available to individual restaurants as a reward for following food safety measures.
Also included in the presentation were several videos explaining how employees should clean surfaces and wash their hands.
The company website includes a Food Safety page detailing some of these initiatives.
During the initial outbreak, 55 people across 11 states were sickened, and 21 were hospitalized. A smaller outbreak later occurred, infecting five people across three states and sending one person to the hospital. The majority of those affected in the two outbreaks (57 percent and 80 percent, respectively) were female.
(Women were also the focus of another Chipotle-related situation yesterday: a federal jury in Cincinnati determined the restaurant chain wrongly terminated three former general managers on the basis of their genders, and violated the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The three women were awarded a total of about $600,000 in damages.)
The CDC announced last week that the E. coli outbreak issues are over. On the plus side for Chipotle, its company stock climbed four percent upon the news. In an effort to win back customers’ trust, Chipotle apologized for the temporary shutdown by offering rain checks for free burritos.