In 2015, Chipotle, a nationwide restaurant chain that had built a reputation for caring about the health of its customers, suffered a devastating setback when three separate incidents of food-borne illness made 510 people sick and sent the company into an immediate downward spiral. Stock prices plummeted, and the company’s future looked bleak indeed. Illness caused by Norovirus, E.Coli, and salmonella over a period of six months between August and December rocked the public’s trust in the national restaurant chain, and it could easily have been the end of days for the company that had been around since 1993.
But Chipotle is still among the living, thanks in large part to the “unprecedented” changes it made regarding food storage and preparation. According to Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the former Director of Public Health for LA County in an article by Linda Carroll for Today, food-borne illness is always a risk for anyone choosing to dine out, especially at an establishment that uses fresh ingredients over frozen and canned. But the fact that the forces at work behind Chipotle used the 2015 outbreaks as an opportunity to improve food safety may be the one factor that saved them in the public’s eye.
What measures did Chipotle take that helped turn the tide?
On February 8, 2016, every Chipotle in the country opened late at 3 pm to give employees time to attend a company-wide staff meeting that was broadcast to various conference rooms and movie theaters across the nation. Even the public was able to tune in via Periscope and Twitter to hear about all the changes the company is making to help eradicate the threat of food-borne illnesses in its restaurants.
Move to Central Kitchens
To help reduce the risk of contamination on-site, Chipotle announced it will begin processing and prepping certain items such as tomatoes at centralized kitchens instead of on-site at individual restaurants. This will allow fresh foods to be washed, diced, washed again, tested, and packaged for shipment before they ever reach the restaurant.
Blanching Fresh Produce
A strong second step that the higher-ups at Chipotle have embraced is the blanching of high-risk produce in boiling water before prepping it for inclusion in meals. To date, Chipotle has announced it will use this treatment on avocados, onions, limes, lemons and jalapenos to help remove the threat of dangerous bacteria clinging to the skins.
Change in Meat-Handling Strategy
If you walk into a Chipotle restaurant today and slip behind the scenes, you’ll see changes in the meat-marinade schedule. Raw meats such as chicken and steak are now only marinated at night after other fresh fruits and vegetables have been safely stored away. In this way, no employee is tempted to move back and forth between the handling of raw meat and the prepping of fresh produce.
Better Sanitizing Techniques
Chipotle also announced changes to its cleaning and sanitizing techniques and schedules for its countertops, cutlery, floors and other areas of its kitchens in general — both throughout and at the close of each day. Additionally, increased audits by field leaders, a corporate food safety team, and independent and government health inspectors were announced.
Chipotle offers a website that outlines all the new precautions and preventive measures they’re taking to rebuild their brand into one Americans can feel safe trusting. Find it here.
If you’re concerned about the role food-borne illness plays in your job in the food service industry, ask yourselves, “What could we learn from Chipotle so we could limit the chances of an outbreak?” Maybe now is the right time to invest in a simple food safety certification course.
Source: TABC Blog by Learn 2 Serve