Chipotle Mexican Grill is faced with yet another issue that may further damage its already stained image. This time, it is not about another E. coli outbreak but an accusation that one of its branches covered up something more than just burritos.
A class action lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims that the food chain tried to hide evidence of a norovirus outbreak back in August 2015. The restaurant's branch in Simi Valley, California allegedly delayed contact with health officials as it concealed proof related to the outbreak.
The lawsuit states that a kitchen manager who had already been exhibiting signs and symptoms of norovirus continued to work from Aug. 18 until he was diagnosed with the condition two days later.
The lawsuit also states that the restaurant attempted to hide evidence of the outbreak when it received at least two complaints. The restaurant chose to prioritize the cover-up instead of immediately notifying authorities.
More specifically, the complaint claims that the restaurant disposed all food items, bleached all food handling counters and cooking utensils and replaced all sick crew before finally alerting health officials on Aug. 22.
According to Doug Beach of the Ventura County Environmental Health Division, what Chipotle did prevented their office from performing particular investigative measures.
"It is unusual. Most corporate offices will call us pretty quickly when they think they have a problem," Beach says. "If we had known earlier we could've come in and taken food samples, we could have begun to take samples from employees and from customers."
Seventeen employees and 207 customers were said to have been affected by the outbreak in the Chipotle branch in question.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six Grace Brethren School students and one parent who got sick after eating at the restaurant.
"As a matter of policy, we do not discuss details surrounding pending legal actions," says Chipotle communications director, Chris Arnold. However, he adds that the company performed all the necessary interventions when the incident started, including reporting to Ventura County's health authorities.
Chipotle was at the center of other food safety issues during the Simi Valley outbreak. The lawsuit claims that the restaurant resorted to the alleged action in an attempt to save its stock price.
Photo: Jeramey Jannene | Flickr