The norovirus outbreak linked to a single restaurant in Boston led to the first legal action against the chain.
Chipotle Mexican Grill at 1924 Beacon Street in Boston. Eighty college students fell ill after eating there. (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Dec 18, 2015
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.
The apology tour sparked by a series of food-borne illness outbreaks at Chipotle restaurants across the country continues for the chain’s CEO, Steve Ells. On Wednesday, a lengthy letter from the burrito boss appeared in 61 newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Ells wrote, “The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry.”
Apologies and reforms, which were further detailed in the ad, won’t be enough to stem the fallout from the E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks that have sickened customers in recent months. On Friday, the first lawsuit stemming from the spate of outbreaks was filed against Chipotle in Boston. The suit alleges that the chain’s negligence led a 16-year-old boy who was sickened with norovirus “to suffer severe personal injuries, to suffer great pain of body and mind, to incur hospital and medical expenses, to have his education and recreational activities interrupted, and to have his ability to enjoy a normal, active, and healthy life adversely affected.”
Noted food-safety attorney Bill Marler is representing the plaintiff, and he told the Boston Globe that more lawsuits related to the recent food-safety problems at Chipotle are coming down the pipe. “Chipotle needs to be held responsible for what happened,” he said.
As it prepares to defend itself in court, Chipotle is continuing to retool its food safety protocols as the chain attempts to bounce back from a drop in sales, stock price, and public opinion—all of which were riding high before November. As Ells wrote, Chipotle is “committed to becoming known as the leader in food safety, just as we are known for using the very best ingredients in a fast-food setting.”
New protocols include new sampling and testing regimens to stop bacteria and other contaminants from making it into kitchens in the first place—which goes above and beyond the industry status quo—and partnering with the farmers and suppliers the company works with to “further enhance their food safety programs.” The Packer, a produce-growers trade publication, reported on Thursday that the overhaul may lead to some of Chipotle’s small-farm suppliers being dropped—but, as the story noted, the chain only sources 10 percent of its produce from such farmers. Since the food-safety problems began earlier this year, only one source has been identified: Raw tomatoes that contained salmonella caused an outbreak in Minnesota that sickened 64 people. Although some media reports have tried to link Chipotle’s food-safety problems with its commitment to working with small farmers, as of yet there is no hard evidence to suggest that is the case.
As the year comes to a close, 500 people in at least 10 states have fallen sick after eating at Chipotle.