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

BLM drill seeders work to restore native grasses after wildfire on the Bowden Hills Wilderness Study Area in southeast Oregon, Dec. 14, 2018. Marcus Johnson / BLM / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 2017 the Thomas fire raged through 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, California, leaving in its wake a blackened expanse of land, burned vegetation, and more than 1,000 destroyed buildings.

Read More Show Less
Brogues Cozens-Mcneelance / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Alina Petre, MS, RD

Fruit juice is generally perceived as healthy and far superior to sugary soda.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Danielle Nierenberg and Katherine Walla

As the holiday season ramps up for many across the world, Food Tank is highlighting 15 children's books that will introduce young eaters, growers and innovators to the world of food and agriculture. Authors and organizations are working to show children the importance — and fun — of eating healthy, nutritious and delicious food, growing their own produce, and giving food to others in need.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

Purple cabbage, also referred to as red cabbage, belongs to the Brassica genus of plants. This group includes nutrient-dense vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Lauren Wolahan

For the first time ever, the UN is building out a roadmap for curbing carbon pollution from agriculture. To take part in that process, a coalition of U.S. farmers traveled to the UN climate conference in Madrid, Spain this month to make the case for the role that large-scale farming operations, long criticized for their outsized emissions, can play in addressing climate change.

Read More Show Less