A Boston health inspector knew the only way to see if food at Chipotle is clean is to eat at one of its restaurants – amid a norovirus outbreak that sickened over 140 students at Boston College and several others.
William Christopher, an Inspectional Services commissioner in Boston, dined in along with his staff at the restaurant, which went back to business this week after getting the green light from health officials in the city on Dec. 23.
In a statement, Christopher said he enjoyed lunch at the restaurant that afternoon as a show of confidence in their inspection.
“We are pleased to see that the Cleveland Circle Chipotle has taken the necessary steps to meet the health code standards put forth by the City of Boston to protect consumers,” he said, citing health and safety as their top priority.
He added that Chipotle is “the cleanest place in Boston” to eat right now with its “clean bill of health.”
Norovirus, E.coli Outbreaks
The Cleveland Circle branch was temporarily closed down earlier in December after Boston College students fell ill with the norovirus following their meal at the restaurant or being in close contact with diners.
Chipotle was hounded by an E.coli outbreak in November, where at least 53 individuals from nine states were sickened.
The norovirus, an extremely contagious one, usually leads to gastrointestinal symptoms for two to three days. According to Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold, noroviruses are highly common, partly because they are also easily passed on.
About 20 million cases of noroviruses occur every year, making them the top culprit behind gastroenteritis in the country, added Arnold.
Chipotle’s stock price and brand image were badly wounded by the string of illnesses, hitting an all-time low according to YouGov’s brand sentiment index. This quarter, the management foresees a dip in same-store sales for the first time since a decade ago.
New Food Safety Measures
During his "Today Show" appearance earlier this month, Chipotle co-CEO and founder Steve Ells issued a public apology and promised new, stricter food safety rules.
"I have to say I'm sorry for the people that got sick. They're having a tough time. I feel terrible about that, and we're doing a lot to rectify this and make sure it doesn't happen again."
In the aftermath of the foodborne illness outbreaks linked to its food, Chipotle did cook up stricter food safety and handling guidelines. The revitalized measures include partnering with Seattle-based food safety testing firm IEH laboratories and Consulting Group.
“We have carefully examined our operations—from the farms that produce our ingredients, to the partners that deliver them to our restaurants, to the cooking techniques used by our restaurant crews,” said Chipotle in a blog post.
The key components of the program include DNA-based safety testing of ingredients, sanitizing fresh produce items through blanching, training and educating employees, and conducting end-of-shelf-life tests.
Internal and third-party assessments, added the statement, will also be done and will include weekly audits by field operations leads, quarterly audits by its safety team and external assessments by IEH Laboratories.
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr