A total of 141 people in Boston have become the latest victims in Chipotle’s prolonged battle with foodborne illnesses. After eating at a Chipotle restaurant near the campus of Boston College this past weekend, 80 students fell ill and were tested for E. coli and norovirus. Yesterday results from the Boston Public Health Commission identified norovirus as the culprit. Health inspectors for the City of Boston have closed the location for health violations that include allowing a sick employee to work.
This week’s incident adds to a list of public struggles Chipotle has dealt with pertaining to the cleanliness of its fresh ingredients. Since July, the Tex-Mex chain has experienced numerous outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus. As a result, stock in Chipotle has dropped by 25%, more than 40 stores have had to close, and the company is suffering a colossal hit to its public image.
Chief Financial Officer for the restaurant, Jack Hartung spoke to investors during a presentation Tuesday about the company’s goal to be the safest place to eat, “We’re serving extraordinary quality ingredients, and that’s been something in place for many, many years now, and we’re the best in the world at that. We’re going to be the best in the world at food safety, and we’re taking this very, very seriously.” Hartung’s also expressed his frustration with the media’s “sensational headlines” and CDC’s handling of recent events, “It’s been fueled by the sort of unusual, unorthodox way the CDC has chosen to announce cases related to the original outbreak in the Northwest. They’ve done that a couple of times now and they’re not announcing new cases—they’re simply announcing new reporting to them from local health agencies.”
Chipotle has positioned itself as a company that values fresh ingredients, organic food, and naturally raised meat in a market saturated with less than healthy competitors. However, these values are probably to blame for the restaurant’s problems, and CFO Hartung acknowledges the uphill battle sure to come, “It’s going to cost some money. It’s going to be a big investment. We’re not going to be very efficient right now.”
Plans to resume advertisement and marketing for the chain will resume once the CDC closes the case.