Chipotle Cooks Up New, Stricter Food Safety Rules Amid E. Coli Fiasco

Chipotle Cooks Up New, Stricter Food Safety Rules Amid E. Coli Fiasco
Image credit: Chipotle | Facebook

Chipotle Mexican Grill says it’s cleaning up its act in the aftermath of several recent foodborne illness-related outbreaks linked to its food.

Scrambling to restore consumer confidence, the fast-casual chain announced today that it is taking “aggressive actions” to roll out stricter food safety practices that it claims go above and beyond current industry norms.

“We have carefully examined our operations -- from the farms that produce our ingredients, to the partners that deliver them to our restaurants, to the cooking techniques used by our restaurant crews -- and determined the steps necessary to make the food served at Chipotle as safe as possible,” the company said in a statement.

Related: After Numerous Health Incidents, Chipotle Has a Big Perception Problem

Specifically, some of those steps include: marinating raw chicken in re-sealable plastic bags instead of in bowls; testing chicken and steak more often; scalding several fresh produce items (including onions) in boiling water to sanitize them before being chopped; and blending cilantro into steaming hot rice to kill microbes in the herb, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, some ingredients, including cheese, will be prepped at centralized locations, then delivered to nearby restaurants. All 64 ingredients that Chipotle uses will be closely scrutinized, the company claims.

To help implement and uphold its new, more stringent food prep guidelines -- and to hopefully overcome the daunting challenge of not being “the food chain most associated with vomiting and diarrhea,” as our own Raymond Hennessey so eloquently put it -- Chipotle has partnered with IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group. The Lake Forest Park, Wash.-based food safety testing consultancy is tasked with improving Chipotle’s employee food safety training processes.

While Chipotle publicized its sweeping protocol changes today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also heralded some big news of its own -- the federal agency is officially joining the growing E. coli investigation surrounding the restaurant. The FDA will assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with its ongoing probe.

Related: FDA Bans Some Cilantro Imports After Finding Feces and Toilet Paper in Fields

Earlier this week, the CDC said it was looking into the latest E. coli episode connected to the 1,900-location burrito chain. This time, five people who recently ate at the restaurant, identified in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma, have been infected with a rare strain of the bacteria. The incident is the latest in a string foodborne illness outbreaks traced to Chipotle in several states scattered throughout the U.S., some dating back to last summer.

In a sweaty appearance on NBC’s Today Show last week, Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells said the new rules would make Chipotle a leader in food safety. “We’re putting in place practices that will not enable this to happen again," he said, "practices that are so far above industry norms today [that] we will be the safest place to eat.”

Related: At Least 80 Boston College Students Sick After Eating at Chipotle
Edition: November 2016

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