Chipotle Mexican Grill has reportedly reached a settlement with more than 100 customers who fell ill after the chain suffered a series of foodborne outbreak last year.
Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, has told the media that the popular fast food chain “does right by our customers and simply wanted to make things right for people who were affected by any of those incidents."
Specific terms of the settlement have not been publicly disclosed.
It all began last fall when Chipotle voluntarily and temporarily shut down all 43 of its locations in Oregon and Washington due to an outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Just two months later in December 2015, another outbreak plagued Chipotle when 80 Boston College students were sickened with norovirus after dining at a restaurant near the school’s campus. That location was also temporarily shut down pending an investigation. That week, an inspection uncovered some food safety violations--meat stored at unsafe temperatures, and a sick staff member had reported to work instead of staying home.
In the wake of these events, Chipotle instituted a few changes. The restaurant stopped washing and preparing fresh produce (lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, etc.) on-site at each store location and instead began having those items prepped at a centralized off-site kitchen, packaged in plastic bags and shipped to each store. These centralized kitchens are also equipped to test ingredients with “high-resolution” equipment, a task that could not be handled at the store level. Another change was Chipotle’s decision to cut back a little on partnering with local farmers--a practice that has made the chain so popular with health-conscious consumers. The restaurant has stated previously that locally grown ingredients are cultivated by small suppliers who have a hard time keeping up with stringent food safety standards, thus the need to find other alternatives.
Even after announcing and beginning to institute these changes, Chipotle suffered another blow when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in late December 2015 that even more victims had become sick after eating at Chipotle. These five E. coli cases--this time in Kansas and Oklahoma--are believed to have come about so late because many food poisoning victims do not exhibit symptoms right away, and others may have chosen not to see a doctor right away.
In January 2016, Chipotle revealed that the restaurant had been served with a grand jury subpoena in connection to a completely separate event--the company’s first norovirus outbreak that occurred in August 2015 at one of its Simi Valley, CA locations. Investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s office of criminal investigations, and the California Central District leg of the U.S. attorney’s office required the fast food chain to hand over a “broad range of documents” related to last year’s first norovirus outbreak.
On February 8th, Chipotle closed all of its restaurants for a few hours to address food safety in a mandatory all-staff meeting. The live meeting and Q&A, streamed via satellite to all 60,000 employees, discussed new safety measures employees would be required to practice going forward.
In March 2016, a potential food safety scare came about when a Chipotle restaurant in Bellerica, MA was temporarily closed after one of its employees tested positive for norovirus. All food in the Bellerica location was discarded and the restaurant was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, according to the local health department. No illnesses were reported in connection to this instance.
In the year since Chipotle’s norovirus and E. coli outbreaks, no specific origin has been identified.