Quantcast

Is Chipotle a Victim of Corporate Sabotage?

Food

I’m fascinated by reports of Chipotle’s ongoing problems with foodborne illness.

  • The main interest of the press in these episodes is their effect on Chipotle’s stock prices.

  • The outbreaks have been linked to a bunch of different pathogens: E. coli O157:H7, E. coli STEC 026, Salmonella, norovirus, and, possibly, hepatitis A. This means they are due to different causes at different outlets.

  • The food, foods or individuals responsible for these outbreaks are uncertain, making them hard to know how to prevent.

  • Hence: conspiracy theories.

The Outbreaks

The most recent Center for Disease Control report (Dec. 21) counts 53 cases of E. coli 026 from nine states, with 20 hospitalizations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports (Dec. 22) that there are five more recent cases of illness caused by a different type of E. coli 026 among people eating at Chipotle.

Food Safety News summarizes the previous Chipotle outbreaks.

  • Seattle: July 2015, 5 people sick from E. coli O157:H7, from unknown food source.

  • Minnesota: August and September 2015, 64 people sick from Salmonella Newport (tomatoes?).

  • Boston: December 2015, at least 136 people sick from norovirus.

The Consequences

  • Stock prices are down 30 percent from a high of $757.77 in August.

The Conspiracy Theory

The title says it all: ANALYSIS: Chipotle is a victim of corporate sabotage… biotech industry food terrorists are planting e.coli in retaliation for restaurant’s anti-GMO menu.

I don’t think so.

You don’t need conspiracy theories to explain poorly designed and executed food safety procedures.

Photo credit: Michael Saechang / Flickr, Creative Commons

What is to be Done?

The New York Times attributes the inability to identify the food source to Chipotle’s record-keeping:

One of the challenges here has been that we have been able to identify the restaurants where people ate, but because of the way Chipotle does its record-keeping, we have been unable to figure out what food is in common across all those restaurants,” said Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the outbreak response and prevention branch of the CDC [Center for Disease Control].

That, at least, should be an easy fix.

For the rest, Chipotle has initiated a new food safety program, and has recruited a leading food safety expert, Mansour Samadpour, to set it up. I met Samadpour at Earthbound Farms when he was helping that company prevent further problems after the spinach outbreak of 2006. He knows what he his doing.

Chipotle needs to follow his advice—in letter and in spirit.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler advises Chipotle to follow a 12-step program to create an effective culture of food safety from top down and bottom up within the company. For example, he advises the company’s CEO, Steve Ells, to say:

  • It is time to have a culture of food safety added to the “integrity” of the food. I have now learned that bacteria and viruses do not care a whit if my food’s ingredients are organic, sustainable, non-GMO and humanely raised.

  • I am going to hire a vice-president of food safety. That person will report directly to me and to the board of directors. Like Dave Theno being brought in to address the Jack-in-the-Box crisis of 1993, this person will have the resources and access to decision makers to create a culture of food safety from the top down.

  • The company’s new mantra—“Safe Food with Integrity”—will be completely transparent and shared with all—including our competitors.

Will Ells take his advice? I hope so.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

California’s Largest Tribe Bans GMO Crops and Genetically-Engineered Salmon

Agrichemical Industry ‘Attack Dog’ Hired to Discredit Teenage Anti-GMO Activist

5 Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know About the GMO Labeling Debate

10 Reasons Why GMO Smart Label Isn’t ‘Smart’ at All

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less