Chipotle CEO Promises New Safety Standards Won’t Mean Higher Prices

After Chipotle CEO Steve Ells pledged that new safety standards would be going into effect at the chain’s restaurants across the U.S., promising it would soon be “the safest place to eat,” some customers might have wondered whether the cost of that initiative would hit them right where it hurts most, the wallet. But Ells says customers don’t need to worry about the price of their (hopefully) E. coli-free burritos and tacos going up.

In the midst of a nine-state E. Coli outbreak linked to Chipotle that’s sickened more than 50 people, as well as a recent spate of norovirus that hit about 120 students at a Boston College location, Ells says the company is striving to get as close to perfect food safety as possible with new procedures and testing inside and outside their restaurants.

“It is impossible to ensure that there is a zero percent chance of any kind of foodborne illness anytime anyone eats anywhere,” Ells told The Associated Press while touring Seattle restaurants to talk to workers about the new food safety rules.

Though Ells noted that the company will never know for sure which ingredient at Chipotle was tainted with E. coli, prompting this most recent outbreak, but that the company will be adding more testing, as well as cutting, washing and testing tomatoes at central commissaries to ensure they are as clean as possible.

Ells wouldn’t say how much the new testing and safety protocols will cost, but neither customers nor suppliers will be on the hook for getting the new testing requirements started.

“This is a cost that we will bear,” Ells said.

At least, for now: at a meeting with business analysts last week, Chipotle executives said they’d considered raising prices to invest in food safety, but it wouldn’t happen before 2017, most likely.

Any suppliers who aren’t willing to meet the new “high resolution testing” requirements will no longer do business with Chipotle, he added.

It’s worth it for Chipotle to boost its food safety procedures: the recent outbreaks have led the company to temporarily close more than 40 stores in the Pacific Northwest. In a regulatory filing Dec. 4, Chipotle noted that sales have been “extremely volatile,” with November sales falling 16% from the year before.

“I am deeply sorry that people got sick from eating at our restaurants. It’s the worst thing that can happen,” Ells said.

Chipotle CEO: No price increase to cover food safety costs [Associated Press]

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