Chipotle Mexican Grill announced Friday its nearly 2,000 restaurants nationwide are to close Feb. 8 for an all-staff meeting about food safety. The fast casual chain has suffered a series of food safety issues from norovirus to E. coli outbreaks in the past six months.
Chipotle will convene its nearly 60,000 employees through a live satellite feed to address food safety issues that have plagued both the restaurant’s customers and its stock price, which has plummeted more than 30 percent since early August. One of the tenets of the restaurant’s new comprehensive food safety plan it rolled out last fall in response to the ongoing crisis is educating staff about the importance of food safety and training employees on new procedures. Steve Ells, founder and chief executive, announced the brief closing at an investors conference in Florida, USA Today reported .
Chipotle also has implemented several procedural and tactical changes to protect customers and rescue its reputation. The company hired IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group of Seattle to conduct regular audits and build a new “DNA-based” testing system that would examine small batches of ingredients for potential contamination. The chain has said it will begin preparing certain dishes such as salsa in a central facility and test those batches before sending them to individual stores. So far, Chipotle has not revealed any changes to its suppliers even though critics have questioned whether the company’s policy of sourcing from small and local producers is partly to blame for the safety breaches.
Fifty-three Chipotle customers were sickened by an E. coli outbreak that stretched across at least nine states from mid-October to early November. Separately, more than 200 customers fell ill with norovirus after dining at restaurants in Simi Valley, California, and Boston, around the same time. Earlier this month, a federal court issued a subpoena to the restaurant chain for a federal investigation concerning operations at the Simi Valley store.
The public still has not been informed by Chipotle or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about which ingredient or supplier is thought to have caused the E. coli outbreak. Oftentimes, a precise source for a bacteria or contaminant cannot be identified in food safety investigations. Norovirus typically spreads between people and is often caused by a sick customer or employee.