Chipotle searches for top food safety officer Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Chipotle searches for top food safety officer

James Marsden, who started in the new role in 2016, will retire next year

Chipotle Mexican Grill has begun a search to replace the chain’s food safety officer, James Marsden, left, who announced plans to retire next year.

Marsden was tapped as head of food safety in early 2016 following a series of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks that crippled the company in 2015. At the time, it was a new position.

Marsden’s departure date will likely be in the second quarter of 2019, the company told Nation’s Restaurant News this week.  

Marsden, who received his doctorate in food safety from Oklahoma State University, will stay with the chain “until we have hired and fully onboarded a new head of Food Safety at Chipotle,” company spokeswoman Laurie Schalow said.

He will also will serve on the chain’s Food Safety Advisory Council after his retirement.

Finding the right person is crucial to the brand’s credibility as food safety continues to be a problem area for the company, which recently relocated its corporate offices from Denver to Newport Beach, Calif.

Over the summer, the company was linked to 647 reported illnesses that likely stemmed from food held at unsafe temperatures at a Chipotle in Ohio.

Chipotle, founded by Steve Ells near the University of Denver campus, was built on an ethos that every meal is assembled with fresh proteins and vegetables cooked daily in restaurants.

Handling fresh foods requires unique food safety standards, and wellness checks, CEO Brian Niccol told CNBC during a recent interview with Jim Cramer.

“We have a higher level of commitment to food safety,” Niccol told CNBC.

Following the Ohio outbreak, Chipotle retrained hundreds of employees at the brand’s more than 2,450 restaurants. 

That training reinforced food safety protocols put into place after the 2015 outbreaks, which sent sales into a tailspin. Last month, Chipotle added a new layer of food safety protocols when it tapped San Francisco-based Zenput.

Chipotle is using the company’s software to help field leaders monitor store operations remotely, including food safety standards. The Zenput app, for example, allows regional leaders to check for store-level compliance tied to food temperatures, handwashing, and employee wellness protocols.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

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