Editorials

Our gut says Chipotle deserves another chance

Chipotle restaurants in Sacramento and across the country shut down for several hours today for an employee meeting to discuss new food safety policies.
Chipotle restaurants in Sacramento and across the country shut down for several hours today for an employee meeting to discuss new food safety policies. The Associated Press

It’s been hard to stomach a trip to Chipotle lately. We prefer our burritos with chicken and guac – hold the side of salmonella, thank you very much.

But we’re the rooting for the Colorado-based restaurant chain.

Known for serving food that’s freshly prepared from meat and vegetables that are chemical-free and sustainably sourced, Chipotle redefined an industry dominated by overly processed, fried food from McDonald’s and Burger King. We’d hate to see that become the norm again, fueled by the belief that preservative-filled processed food is somehow better for you because it’s safer.

Chipotle has a long way to go to get the bad taste out of people’s mouths. But on Monday, the company took another step in that direction, shutting its doors nationwide and calling its more than 50,000 employees together to discuss ways to reduce the risk of future outbreaks.

Since July, the chain has reported salmonella, E. coli and norovirus outbreaks at restaurants in about a dozen states. There have been supply chain issues, health code violations and sick employees who accidentally contaminated food. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department and Food and Drug Administration subpoenaed the company’s records as part of a criminal investigation into a norovirus infection at a restaurant in Simi Valley.

But Chipotle is regrouping. Now produce and meat will get high-resolution DNA scans before the products are delivered to restaurants. The chain will prepare tomatoes, lettuce and bell peppers in central kitchens, reducing the risk of cross-contamination. Avocados and jalapeños will be blanched to destroy microbes, and chicken and steak will be marinated to do the same.

Every restaurant will be audited regularly. As an incentive, managers’ bonuses will be tied to the results of those audits.

Chipotle is doing the right thing, unlike many corporations that resort to spin during crises.

The chain is being transparent, tweeting and letting customers watch part of Monday’s meeting with employees through the livestreaming app Periscope. And Chipotle is staying true to its ethos, vowing to spend $10 million to help small farmers meet its new food safety standards. It also has vowed not to pass along the cost of all of these changes to its customers, which is nice.

Sure, in some ways, Chipotle has no choice. The company’s shares have been dropping like a hot burrito, bested in one recent quarter by former owner and current nemesis McDonald’s – a troubling trend to say the least.

That’s all the more reason to hope that Chipotle can once again make good on its promise to deliver “food with integrity.”

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