On Feb. 1, 2016, the CDC revealed that the Chipotle Mexican Grill multi-state E. coli outbreak was officially over.
The FDA and CDC along with state and local officials have been investigating two separate outbreaks of E. coli O26 infections that were linked to food served at Chipotle in several states since last October. FDA conducted tracebacks of multiple widely-distributed ingredients, but since traceback can be difficult with Mexican-style foods because they often contain multiple ingredients, no product was identified as the culprit. The FDA also conducted investigations of some suppliers, but did not find any evidence that those suppliers were the source of the outbreak. Ultimately, investigators have not been able to pinpoint the ingredient responsible for the contamination.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the outbreak, Chipotle’s sales and stock price have suffered. In an effort to reassure customers and investors, the organization’s executives have been quick to talk up new steps the chain will implement to tighten food safety and prevent future food poisoning outbreaks.
Steve Ells, Chipotle founder and co-chief executive officer, comments that Chipotle’s new food safety procedures will put it 10 to 15 years ahead of industry standards. Chipotle is even scheduled to shut down all of its stores nationwide on February 8 for a few hours to hold a national staff meeting about food safety conducted via a live satellite feed. “We’re doing a lot to rectify this and to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Ellis says.
According to Darin Detwiler, senior policy coordinator for STOP Foodborne Illness, in the past, food companies have changed their food safety policies and procedures long after a crisis. “Whereas changes rarely took place as a result of pressure from consumer expectations or even political development, change came only after the impact of legislation, litigation, or regulation,” says Detwiler. “…the Chipotle case can be seen as an example of food companies making needed change much sooner than in the past by pressures earlier, after, or even during a crisis. This change of heart towards food safety by Chipotle appears to be driven by a large and growing population of vocal stakeholders in the food industry—consumers!”
Detwiler and other industry experts are hopeful that food service and retail will use this unfortunate incident as an example to take a more proactive approach to enacting and enforcing food safety policies to provide safer food for all.
From The Editor