Chipotle Mexican Grill will pay a $25 million fine as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the agency's probe of the chain’s prior foodborne illness incidents dating back to 2015.
The agreement ends an investigation of a wave of foodborne illness outbreaks that sickened customers and led to plunging sales at the fast-casual chain. The federal probe affirmed that Chipotle restaurants in various cities including cases in Boston, Ohio and Simi Valley, Calif. failed to follow the company's established protocols to prevent sick employees from working.
As part of the agreement, the Newport Beach-based fast casual chain said it has “committed to continue enhancing its already robust food safety policies, practices, and procedures and pay a monetary fine.”
“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customers real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence,” CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement.
In 2016, Chipotle said they would “dramatically” increase the number, and intensity, of restaurant inspections after a series of foodborne illness outbreaks. At the time, company founder and then CEO Steve Ells promised a series of actions to elevate the brand’s food safety protocols.
Kerry Bridges, vice president of food safety, said Chipotle over the last four years has taken several measures to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses.
“These measures include reducing the number of employees who come into contact with ingredients, safeguards to minimize the risk that an ingredient is undercooked, and sophisticated microbiological testing of raw ingredients to help ensure quality and safety before they are shipped to restaurants,” Bridges said in a statement.
“Chipotle also traces the movement of each ingredient in our supply chain. If an ingredient does not meet our high standards, we can quickly determine when and where the problem occurred, and swiftly remove it before it enters our restaurants,” Bridges added.
Chipotle also created an independent Food Safety Advisory Council comprised of food safety experts. They have provided ongoing guidance on best practices to ensure that food served at Chipotle is safe, the company said. Among them is Dr. David Acheson, former associate commissioner for the FDA.
“I can confidently say that the food safety advancements Chipotle has made are industry leading and serve as a best-practice for the restaurant industry. Chipotle continues to look for every opportunity to be ahead of food safety risks and is unquestionably committed to protecting its customers and employees against norovirus and other food borne illnesses,” Acheson said in a statement.
Providing that Chipotle complies with all of its food safety obligations, the DOJ has agreed to dismiss the case after the end of settlement's three year term.
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