After a rash of foodborne sicknesses linked to the fast-casual restaurant, Chipotle has announced the closure of all its stores for part of a day to discuss food safety chainwide.
Yesterday, Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold announced that all Chipotle restaurants will close down on February 8 for a few hours to address several issues with all staff at the same time. It's not known yet the exact times of the closure or for how long the stores will remain closed that day.
Chipotle public relations and communications manager Danielle Moore confirmed the news to New Times in an email, stating:
"Our restaurants will be closed part of the day February 8. We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing, and answer questions from employees."
According to the Wall Street Journal, this announcement comes as part of a retooling of the brand, which has suffered financial losses after a series of E. coli outbreaks that saw more than 50 people fall ill across the country. E. coli outbreaks occurred in Oregon and Washington. Since November, the company's stock has fallen 37 percent from October 2015.
The Chipotle website breaks down the chain of events. Health department officials in Seattle and Portland notified the chain in October 2015 they were investigating a number of E.coli cases. In response, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in the area, though only 11 were being investigated. Chipotle worked with the health officials and retained third-party food safety consulting firms to help it delve into the causes. In November, additional E.coli cases were reported at Chipotles in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Maryland. No illnesses have been reported in South Florida Chipotles.
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In response, Chipotle says that it has conducted more than 2,500 tests of food, restaurants surfaces, and equipment and that none has come back positive for E.coli. The company also says it has sanitized all restaurants in the chain and has implemented safety audits and restocked food at all restaurants.
The company assures diners that it is safe to eat at Chipotle. "Any ingredient that may have been linked to the E. coli incident is no longer in our supply chain. All of the illnesses associated with that incident occurred in a time frame from mid-October to early November, and no new illnesses have occurred since then. Immediately after reports surfaced of the first E. coli cases, we began working on an enhanced food safety program that will help us become industry leaders in food safety."
In a Chipotle FAQ section, the chain also acknowledges that its loyal fan base might be having second thoughts before biting into their GMO-free burrito:
Q: I’VE BEEN SO SUPPORTIVE LATELY, BUT JUST DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH MORE OF THIS I CAN TAKE.
A: We understand that this incident has created a lot of confusion, and in some cases, concern. We are putting into place an industry-leading food safety plan and we will be sharing progress with our customers as this program continues to be implemented. We hope that our renewed focus will encourage you to give us another chance.