New Chipotle Food Safety Procedures Include Shutting Down Restaurant If Anyone Barfs

Yesterday, Chipotle restaurants didn’t open until 3 PM so 50,000 or so restaurant employees could sit in hotel conference rooms or movie theaters to watch a live-streamed company-wide meeting about food safety. The future of the chain is at stake, and their task is to prove to the public that they’re not trying to make us all sick.

Chipotle’s food safety worries started to attract national attention when the same strain of E. coli showed up in customers in disparate states with no connection between incidents and investigators unable to figure out which food item actually caused the outbreak.

After the multi-state E. coli outbreak, a different foodborne illness, norovirus, broke out in Boston at a location popular with Boston University students. That caused news outlets to look back at an earlier norovirus outbreak in California, as well as a Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, and customers to conclude that they shouldn’t go to Chipotle.

Sales at comparable restaurants fell 36% compared to last year, and the company needed to fight the crisis. As soon as they were confident that no one else would get sick.

That’s what led to yesterday’s much-publicized company-wide lunchtime meetings. Two reporters were allowed in: Candice Choi of the Associated Press and Mark Sullivan of FastCompany.

They shared what happened inside, but it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect: repetitive instructional videos about food safety and cleaning procedures, explanations of new policies, and questions for company leadership from the audience.

There were two announcements that were noteworthy for non-employees, though. First, they announced that in addition to the three normal sick days that they receive every year, employees with symptoms of common foodborne illnesses will be sent home and told to stay there for five days.

Those are paid days off, and are meant to cover the period during which someone can still be contagious from common foodborne illnesses, though they mainly seem concerned about super–contagious norovirus.

Another important new policy is that if anyone vomits in the restaurant, the whole establishment will be shut down for cleanup and to prevent contagion. This includes customers.

What We Learned During Chipotle’s First Company-Wide Food Safety Meeting [FastCompany]
Chipotle Urges Workers to Stay Home If They’re Sick [AP]