Following successive food poisoning outbreaks this past year, Chipotle will be closing all of its stores for several hours next month for a national food safety meeting. According to company spokesman Chris Arnold, the safety meeting will occur on February 8th and will involve all staff at the company’s more than 1,900 restaurants.
Conducted through a live satellite feed, the national safety meeting will feature Chipotle officials thanking the company’s roughly 60,000 employees for their efforts to address recent food-related illness issues that arose at several company restaurants. Chipotle has suffered from several outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and norovirus that infected customers.
Recent incidents include:
• In July health authorities tracked five illnesses to a store in the Seattle market.
• In August 64 customers in Minnesota were infected with Salmonella and about 100 people were struck by norovirus in southern California.
• In October and November E. coli outbreaks affected 53 people in nine states.
• In December 140 students at Boston College were infected with norovirus. A new incidence of E. coli also occurred affecting five people in three states.
E. coli is a type of bacteria normally found in intestines. However, certain types of E. coli bacterium can cause infection and severe symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Severe infections can lead to more serious risks, especially in children and the elderly. Contaminated foods such as vegetables and undercooked ground beef are often the cause of health concerns.
Noroviruses cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine lining. Commonly referred to as “food poisoning,” noroviruses are often transmitted through food that’s been contaminated with the virus. Once someone is infected from contaminated food, the virus can quickly pass from person to person through shared food or utensils or through other close contact
Salmonella infections are a type of food poisoning that occurs as a result of consumption of raw meats and eggs, contaminated dairy foods, or fruits and vegetables contaminated by food handlers. A frequent cause is a food handler who does not wash his or her hands with soap after using restroom facilities.
Chipotle is currently facing several lawsuits brought by customers, and the company was recently served a subpoena by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations. Between the legal issues and a projected drop in sales, the company has reported that they believe these health and safety concerns will end up costing between $14 million and $16 million.
“We’re going to let all of our folks know about how this happened, and, in detail, all the steps that we’re taking to ensure that it won’t happen again,” Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells.
While workplace safety is a common subject of safety meetings throughout the retail industry, safety concerns can impact a business in many different ways. As these incidents clearly illustrate, employees must be aware of all the many variables that can impact health and safety in the workplace, and these different factors should be regularly discussed as part of scheduled safety meetings.