Chipotle May Change Some Of Its Food-Safety Changes Back

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

After outbreaks of Salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli that made hundreds of diners sick, burrito eatery Chipotle made some changes to its food-handling practices, which included processing more food in central “canteen” facilities, adding lemon juice to chopped vegetables, and testing all of their ingredients for pathogens. While facing low sales and an expensive food giveaway, Chipotle is considering maybe rolling some of those changes back.

The Wall Street Journal quotes “people familiar with the matter,” who say that the chain is considering ending tests on their beef. The new protocols have beef cooked in a central location up to a temperature that could kill foodborne pathogens, notably E. coli. That would mean they might be able to go without the expensive DNA-based pathogen testing.

The meat now arrives in restaurants pre-cooked in sealed bags, and restaurant workers heat it on the grill. This leaves no room for uncooked beef to cross-contaminate other foods, which it could have done when raw beef and chicken were marinated in restaurants nightly and grilled on site. The people familiar with the matter say that Chipotle is considering using the same method with chicken.

The fallout from the food safety scares has left two key questions for Chipotle: first, by handing out free and buy-one-get-one burrito coupons, are they training customers to expect regular coupons, or even free food on a regular basis?

More importantly, even though company officials don’t believe that the food-safety changes affect flavor, the question is whether customers can detect difference, or believe that they can detect a difference. That might keep customers away.

Chipotle Weighs Stepping Back From Some Food-Safety Changes [Wall Street Journal]