Friday, December 11, 2015

Flaws in the Fundamental Food Safety System Plague Chipotle

Chipotle seems a lot like the Titanic, that early 20th century ship that sank after hitting an iceberg.  As we came to find out with the Titanic, issues in the fundamental structural, particularly poorly made rivets , were not able to hold when the impact occurred.

Similarly, we are seeing cracks in the fundamental food safety structure within Chipotle that go far beyond the E. coli outbreak which as been blamed on local supplier issues.  First, this E.coli outbreak looks to be more than a local issue when you see that cases have occurred across the country.  Then, this week, an outbreak of norovirus was linked to the Boston Chipotle outlet.  And yesterday, a store in Seattle was shut down due to numerous food safety violations.

Issues can occur, but you would think that after a major outbreak, an organization would be able to button down the hatches until the storm has passed.  But this has not been the case.  First, there was an under estimation with regard to the scope of the E. coli outbreak coupled with the fact that they have not been able to identify the source.  Then to have a norovirus outbreak on the other side of the country - clearly an issue with their personal hygiene program and illness control of employees.  Then back to the west coast where a store was shut down to food safety violations - lack of hand washing, poor temperature control.

Unlike the Titanic, Chipotle is expected to remain afloat.  However, more than a simple fix will be needed to get this ship sailing in the right direction.  Immediate corrective action seems to be needed across their 1700 establishments.  Continued issues, however small, will be broadcast far and wide now that the company is in the media and regulators crosshairs.  Talking about fixing is easy compared to actually fixing....and talking about fixing followed by further issues will completely erode public trust.  At what point do you shut them all down to take a real stand on food safety?  Fixing those rivets is a serious undertaking, but until its done correctly, the ship will continue to flounder.

CDC Outbreak News
 Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O26 Infections Linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurants

December 4, 2015

 12-4-2015: Persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26, by state
Seven more ill people have been reported from California (1), Illinois (1), Maryland (1), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (1), and Washington (1) since the last update. Two of these illnesses started in October, and five started in November 2015.
Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have been added to the list of states reporting illnesses, bringing the total to nine states.
Of the three most recent illnesses reported in November, only one ill person, whose illness started on November 10, reported eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill in the week before their illness began.
The investigation is still ongoing to determine what specific food is linked to illness.

Read the Advice to Consumers »(
CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and public health officials in several states are investigating an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O26 (STEC O26) infections.
As of December 2, 2015, 52 people infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O26 have been reported from nine states.
20 ill people have been hospitalized. There have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome and no deaths.
The majority of illnesses have been reported from Washington and Oregon during October 2015.
Of the three most recent illnesses reported in November, only one ill person reported eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill in the week before their illness began.
The epidemiologic evidence available at this time suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak.
47 (90%) of 52 ill people interviewed reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in the week before their illness started.
The investigation has not identified what specific food is linked to illness.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is assisting public health officials with understanding the distribution of food items served at locations where ill people ate and this work is ongoing.
Investigators are using whole genome sequencing, an advanced laboratory technique(, to get more information about the DNA fingerprint of the STEC O26 bacteria causing illness.
To date, 21 STEC O26 isolates from ill people in Washington (16), California (2), Minnesota (2), and New York (1) were found to be highly related genetically to one another.
CDC and state and local public health partners are continuing laboratory surveillance through PulseNet to identify additional ill persons and to interview them.
Consumers should contact a health care provider if they recently became ill with diarrheal symptoms after eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant.
CDC will advise the public if specific steps are identified that consumers can take to protect themselves.


The Wall Street Journal
Norovirus outbreak among Boston College students is Chipotle’s fifth food-safety issue since July
By Julie Jargon
Published: Dec 9, 2015 2:19 p.m. ET

Health officials on Wednesday confirmed the presence of norovirus among Boston College students who reported becoming ill after eating at a single Chipotle over the weekend.
The number of students who have reported becoming sick now stands at more than 120, up from 80 students as of midday Tuesday, a spokesman for the college said. Because of an earlier outbreak of E. coli linked to Chipotle restaurants in nine states, health authorities also tested the students for E. coli infection.
“While the tests for E. coli have not yet been returned, Boston College is focusing its attention on the norovirus outbreak,” the college spokesman said.

Since July, there have been a total of five outbreaks linked to Chipotle, including a little-reported case of E. coli that sickened five people in Seattle and which was a different strain unrelated to the larger outbreak that began in October, as well as a norovirus case in Southern California, a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and the Boston outbreak.                                        
Norovirus is highly contagious and is spread by contaminated food, improper hygiene and contact with contaminated surfaces. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.

KMO News
Chipotle in SLU closes after repeated food safety violations
By KOMO Staff Published: Dec 10, 2015 at 3:04 PM PST Last Updated: Dec 10, 2015 at 5:51 PM PST
The fast-food chain located at 212 Westlake Ave. N, and 42 other Chipotle restaurants in Washington state and Oregon, were voluntarily closed by the restaurant at the end of October following an E. coli outbreak.

The stores were reopened November 11 after meeting inspectors' health standards.

Public Health officials said the South Lake Union restaurant had received red violations on three consecutive visits, including the inspection on Thursday. Officials said there have been no known illnesses connected with this restaurant.

Nine other locations received unsatisfactory ratings including: Kent, Renton, Southcenter Mall, Downtown Seattle, Issaquah, Redmond, Woodinville and two in Bellevue. Violations ranged from improper food cooking times and temperatures, improper food holding temperatures and inadequate hand washing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that at least 52 people in nine states have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak so far, with 47 of them having eaten at Chipotle. The most recent case happened Nov. 13.

The ingredient that sickened people has not been identified, but Chipotle said whatever the likely culprit was is out of its restaurants. The company has noted the exposure period for the outbreak appears to have passed.

On Thursday, Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells said he is "deeply sorry" about the customers who were sickened after eating at the chain in recent weeks.

In its annual report, Chipotle noted it may be at a higher risk for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses because of its "fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation."

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