“Which type of meat? Pinto or black beans? White or brown rice? Any toppings?” Upon entering either one of Erie’s two Chipotle locations, these are the questions that many a burrito-crazed customer would be more than happy to answer. However, notice that no where in this borderline interrogation can the question, “Would you like E. Coli with that?” be found.
The first Chipotle Mexican Grill was founded by Steve Ellis in the year 1993, in the city of Denver, Colorado. Rapidly winning over the favor of locals, and proving its legitimacy to early investors, such as McDonald’s, Chipotle earned the ranking of 2010’s third fastest-growing restaurant chain, based on increases in U.S. sales percentages. Today, Chipotle boasts the statistic of owning nearly 2,000 locations among five nations, employing nearly 5,000 people. Grossing a multi-billion dollar annual revenue and exhibiting an indisputable level of success, one would assume that the experience of Chipotle’s vast, devoted consumer base would be the restaurant’s highest level of concern. However, this restaurant’s reputation took a hit after a series of incidents left Chipotle customers feeling ill.
It all started in August of 2015 when a norovirus outbreak hit a Chipotle in Simi Valley, California, leading to 234 documented cases of E. Coli between customers and employees. Further outbreaks in Washington and Oregon, in late October 2015, caused this popular Mexican restaurant to close 43 locations in the area in early November. A second strain of E. Coli, STEC O26, was furthermore identified by the FDA and linked to Chipotle locations in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Maryland, affecting 53 people as of December 18, 2015. As of December 22, five new cases of the strain had been reported in Kansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, linked to two specific restaurant locations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
E. Coli bacteria is naturally found in the human digestive tract, but certain strains of this bacteria can cause vomiting or bloody diarrhea. It should therefore be of no surprise that an outbreak of such a legitimately disabling sickness has been epitomized in the filing of a lawsuit by two especially discontent customers, plummeting stock values, and turning an otherwise passionate fan base apprehensive. Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis figured enough was enough, and made the executive decision to close every single Chipotle restaurant for a day, in order to reevaluate health standards and “initiatives at the supply level” within “central kitchens and restaurants.”
The general consensus among public relations workers is that this was essentially the worst possible way for Chipotle to handle this crisis. People are now overly aware of a topic that could’ve otherwise blown over with time. In addition, having to close restaurants for an entire day suggests that Chipotle will still have issues with their health standards until the February 8th closing.
Regarding the logistics behind what may have caused E. Coli’s presence, I turned to Metz chef and Cathedral Prep lunch provider, James Wrigley. “It’s not difficult to happen, if you’re not diligent with health standards. There must have been some mishap in either the washing of vegetables or the cleaning/cooking of meat. Regardless, there must have been failures by multiple employees at multiple levels.”
I’m a barbacoa meat, white rice, pinto bean, cheese, lettuce, corn salsa, sour cream, and guacamole type of guy. I might even treat myself to some chips and a drink, if I feel like splurging. However, until February 8th, no combination of delicious Mexican cuisine could convince me to risk the chance of vomiting or experiencing bloody diarrhea. Let’s therefore hope, for everyone’s sake, that Chipotle will take hold of their issues, and return back to the desirable, deliciously hip Mexi-American restaurant they worked so hard to become.