Amid the controversy Chipotle is facing over successive E. coli outbreaks in 2015, the company says it will close all stores on Feb. 8 for a company-wide meeting on food safety. The meeting will highlight marketing strategies and discussions on food safety in its road to recovery.
Chipotle's sales decreased by 30 percent in December 2015 and its predicament over the E. coli outbreak started at the end of October. After several weeks, however, a series of additional cases were reported.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 53 people fell ill because of the outbreak strain of STEC O26 (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O26) as of Dec. 18, 2015. Infected individuals came from nine states, the majority of whom were from Washington and Oregon.
The company is confident that it will win customers back even after the outbreaks triggered public alarm. Though an investigation is still ongoing, Chipotle presented its own Comprehensive Food Safety Plan to rebuild itself from the contamination scare.
"To achieve our goal of establishing leadership in food safety, we collaborated with preeminent food safety experts to design a comprehensive food safety program that dramatically reduces risk on our farms, throughout the supply chain, and in our restaurants," Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle, said.
"The process began with a farm-to-fork risk assessment of every ingredient and all of our restaurant protocols and procedures," he added.
The company also has taken steps to help federal health officials investigate the source of contamination. Upon encountering complaints regarding people who got infected with the illness, it immediately closed 43 outlets in Oregon and Washington as it conducted more than 2,500 tests on surfaces, equipment and food, but none were confirmed to have any contamination.
The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, said that the epidemiological evidence available at this time suggests that a common meal or ingredient served at Chipotle restaurants is likely the source of the outbreaks.
At present, 46 patients or 88 percent of those who were interviewed have reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant.
"In the end, it may not be possible for anyone to completely eliminate all risk with regards to food (or from any environment where people congregate), but we are confident that we can achieve near zero risk," Ells said.
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr