Every week, there is news about food borne illnesses – whether from foods consumed at home or at restaurants. One of the fastest growing fast casual restaurants – Chiptole Mexican Grill – had a crisis at their core – their value proposition of offering fresh food prepared daily before your eyes.
In the Pacific Northwest, Chiptole Mexican Grill quickly shut down all of its 43 restaurants after 42 customers at 10 locations in Washington and Oregon got sick with E. coli. The source of the contamination has not been found despite significant investigation, sanitation, and testing of employees for E. Coli . The company had a similar crisis in September after 60 customers got sick from a Salmonella outbreak – one that was traced to tomatoes.
The irony is Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” mission to provide fresh, locally sourced ingredients makes it all the more susceptible to such outbreaks. Food safety experts note that fresh produce and meats from small farmers can be more vulnerable to food-borne illness, compared to products from large suppliers which have the resources to test for dangerous pathogens. The positive news is the outbreaks can be relatively contained, since the produce is indeed local.
The stores have re-opened after health inspectors clearance and have been stocked with fresh supply of new ingredients. The company also said it was working with health officials to improve food handling processes and adding audits and inspections in all of its 2,000 restaurants.
In a time of crisis, it is good to act quickly and communicate clearly and transparently with all stakeholders involved. Chiptole’s management acted responsibly and aggressively closing all of their 43 locations when 10 were only involved in the E-coli – something that customers should value in their relationship with the restauranteur.