Food (Safety) with Integrity

Chipotle is closed for lunch today.

But the meteoric rise to the top of the fast casual dining segment is thanks to its corporate recipe of equal parts brilliant marketing, homemade guacamole and “food with integrity”.

Now, as the company attempts to recover from multiple foodborne outbreaks, I keep wondering about that last ingredient.

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells mentioned in an interview with Matt Lauer about the foodborne outbreaks that the “silver lining” in the multiple foodborne illness outbreaks is that they have had to review their food safety practices.

“That is our commitment, much like food with integrity to bring the very best ingredients to fast food, we are now saying we have practices that will make it the safest place to eat… how the food is prepared, how the food is cooked and how the food is served,” Ells said.

It seems strange to pair “food with integrity” with food safety practices that don’t meet the standard.

Food with integrity should not only include fresh healthy produce and humanely-raised livestock, but it should also include safe food and safe food practices. When you claim to be doing things differently and changing the face of fast food, food safety should be a number one concern additional to where the ingredients come from. Safe food practices should be a part of each level of the supply chain. Safety and quality of ingredients.

Regardless of the multiple outbreaks (six reported outbreaks of E. coli and 2 reported outbreaks of norovirus) many Chipotle customers have shown their brand loyalty and continued to eat at Chipotle during the most recent E. coli investigation. USA Today reported that there was actually an increase in visits of teens and young adults ages 13-24 from October through December of 2015. Research from the firm The NPD Group shows that there was a 10% increase compared to that same time in 2014.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the investigation into the E. coli outbreaks that started in October of last year appear to be over. They never did find a source for the E. coli at any of the Chipotle locations investigated.

Chipotle executives have been working to implement an industry leading food safety plan that if implemented correctly could reduce the risk of anther foodborne outbreak to “near zero.” They have also been implementing food safety standards with their suppliers that will hopefully make the food coming into the restaurants much safer.

Food safety crises such as these are obviously bigger than implementing NCCO food prep labels or the Date Code Genie automated labeling system. These types of outbreaks highlight just how integral food safety is to public health – and the complexity of the restaurant industry in general.

Food safety must be of utmost importance at every level of the supply chain. We all owe it to our direct customers, suppliers and restaurant patrons to adopt a proactive food safety approach so the next time someone walks into Chipotle the only worry is if there will be enough chopped up limes by the soda machine.