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article imageChipotle briefly closing all restaurants to talk food safety

By Megan Hamilton     Jan 15, 2016 in Business
It's been a bumpy year for Chipotle after frustrating outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus, so the company has decided it's time to take a short break and have a meeting with employees to discuss this unpleasant situation.
Last week, there was plenty of mystery as to why Chipotle was planning the day-long closing on Feb. 8 for a meeting, but staffers weren't given any indication about what might be said. Could store closings be involved, or perhaps staffing changes? Maybe changes to the menu? Consumerist wondered.
Nope. None of the above, says The Wall Street Journal.
The all-staff meetings give company executives the chance to provide transparency about the status of the E. coli outbreak, along with information on what the company is doing to keep this from happening again. Executives plan to begin a marketing campaign in February geared at winning back customers who have given the chain a wide berth.
At a Florida conference on Wednesday, Chipotle executives said no customers have reported getting sick with E. coli since late November, and they think the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may soon call an end to the outbreak that had been linked to the chain. This sickened more than 50 people nationwide.
Chipotle founder and co-Chief Executive Steve Ells expressed confidence at the event that the chain will recover and win back its customers. He emphasized steps the company is taking that it says will reduce the risk of another foodborne outbreak to near zero, the Journal reports.
The illness caused 43 stores to close in November and sickened at least 53 people in nine states, E! Online reports.
New food safety measures are already in place at the chain, but the initial cause of the E. coli outbreak is still a mystery.
Last year, health officials investigated several outbreaks linked to Chipotle. The outbreaks involved norovirus, E. coli, and salmonella, The Chicago Tribune reported. One October outbreak affected Oregon and Washington and then spread to another seven states, sickening over 50 people by mid-November. Additionally, some 200 people were sickened by norovirus in December after eating at a Boston Chipotle. And another five cases of E. coli in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma were being investigated by federal health officials in December.
The outbreaks got their start in July in Seattle where health officials traced five illnesses to one store. Then in August, nearly 100 people fell ill with norovirus after eating at a Chipotle in Simi Valley, California. In September, more than 60 people were sickened in Minnesota.
The company's stocks plummeted, Digital Journal reports.
The company has hired a food safety expert, has changed food handling practices, and has also started testing produce before it is shipped to stores, the Tribune reports.
Chipotle will also use other methods to promote food safety, Consumerist reports. This includes dunking onions in boiling water to kill germs, adding cilantro to rice while the rice is still hot, and adding lemon and lime juice to kill pathogens in onions and other fresh ingredients.
The company also plans to pre-shred or chop many non-meat ingredients, such as cheese, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes, at centralized locations instead of at the stores. This gives Chipotle the chance to test ingredient samples before they are shipped to restaurants.
Let the burrito cravings begin. Except on Feb. 8, of course.
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