Will Chipotle’s Food Safety Scandals Stop The Fast Food Giant?

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/business/chipotles-new-mantra-safe-food-not-just-fresh.html

James B. Stewart, a writer for the New York Times, writes about the recent food illness outbreaks in the popular restaurant chain Chipotle. Chipotle had several notorious food illness outbreaks this past year, including E. Coli scares in Boston and Seattle. Experts and critics alike say that Chipotle needs to become more stringent with their handwashing and safe food policy or the major chain will have big issues moving forward.

As readers, do you think the author did a good job of reporting on the story? Is there anything else he could have asked? Did you like the comparison to Jack In The Box or not? Why or why not? Do you think Chipotle jeoparized food safety with their crusade to eliminate GMO and non-local foods?

Do you think that Chipotle’s food safety issues are a by-product of their “local, fresh food” policy (regulation could vary a bit from location to location) or do you think they stem from a major lack of health awareness in Chipotle’s organization itself? If you believe the former, what do you think could be done to eliminate some of these issues? Also, do you think Chipotle’s stock and reputation will bounce back from this series of scandals?

 

And the most important question of all: will this stop you from eating Chipotle?

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10 Responses to “Will Chipotle’s Food Safety Scandals Stop The Fast Food Giant?”

  1. James Stewart did a great job with this. A lot of top-end experts came together in this article. The comparison to Jack in the Box helped to develop the context of food-borne health issues in the food industry, and show that Chipotle’s story isn’t as outrageous as some of its outbreak statistics make it seem.

    There is no added risk for using GMOs (maybe a scientist’s opinion would have helped here), and while there is added risk with using local foods, restaurants all over the country are capable of doing this successfully already. So it is not realistic to say that Chipotle’s food plan allows for exceptionally high food safety risks. Everything in this article points to Chipotle being a normal food chain that has yet to establish optimal food safety measures. Chipotle is a young chain, and all it needed to do was bring in some new food safety experts to resolve the issue.

    I will always eat Chipotle.

  2. I am in agreement with Chris that Mr. Stewart did a great job on the article. Along with the points Chris made about the several experts on the case and the great use of an example with Jack in the Box, I would like to add that he had a very fair take on the issue. This piece could have easily turned into a discussion about how farm to table and locally grown ingredients are not a good idea for large corporations, but instead the story referenced the 1 in 6 Americans who get some type of food poisoning yearly, masterfully noting that the majority of cases are from home cooking.

    On the other side, I did notice at the bottom of the story that there were corrections because of a mistake in the description of the lawyer in the case and the fact that he called E. Coli a virus, when it is surely a bacterium. I think those mistakes do seem to say that maybe the story was a bit rushed, but overall I think it was a great piece.

    As for eating Chipotle, I have been boycotting it for the past 3 months due to these outbreaks, but I do think I will go back to eat it soon. The CDC officially stated that the illnesses were not happening anymore, and the owner of the chain may have swayed me when he said that they are only more at risk than other fast food chains because they are cooking much more in their kitchens. This follows a lot of the ideas that I believe in, and as a vegetarian, I think I am less at risk because undercooked meat is often the cause of food poisonings.

  3. I think the author did a great job on this article and included a great deal of statistics and details. I liked the comparison to Jack in the Box because I believe it helped put into context that something similar has happened before and that Chipotle will be able to rebound from this. I don’t think they jeopardized food safety by eliminating GMOs and non-local foods because this could really happen in any situation. It doesn’t matter where the food comes from because there will always be a chance of these type of outbreaks when fresh food is used on such a large scale. I believe the food safety issues stemmed from the different regulations in different places because with smaller providers of food it can be harder to regulate what exactly is in the food especially when large corporations are not involved. I believe that Chipotle is doing everything they can in order to resolve this issue, however, they might have wanted to react faster. I think there just need to be regulations in place, however, it is almost impossible to regulate everything when organic food is grown due to the lack of GMOs and antibiotics. I believe that Chipotle will bounce back because once all of these issues are resolved people will still continue to order food there. With any food establishment there is always the risk of food poisoning due to a variety of factors and it is a risk we will all have to take, it is just up to the establishments how big that risk will be. The final question of will I continue to eat Chipotle doesn’t apply to me because I never really ate it to begin with, but I am sure my friends will continue to eat it and I won’t try to stop them.

  4. I liked this article because this is a very prevalent issue at the moment. The reporter did a good job of bringing in outside examples such as Jack in the Box to help the audience contextualize what these types of incidents can be linked to. That being said, I think including the history of how the chain was started really showed the good intentions Chipotle was founded on. Although they may have jeopardized food safety, I think they are open to adopting new and safer practices. If these new practices are successfully implemented, I think the stocks and reputation will bounce back because it will show that they really do want what’s best for their customers.

    For me, having the director of Public Relations say, “it’s prompted us to look at every ingredient we use with an eye to improving our practices” leads me to believe that they are willing to accept responsibility for the incidents that have happened. Although they’ve had these occurrences, it has given them an opportunity to change for the better. So as long as Chipotle continues to own up to their mistakes and make a commitment to improving, I will continue to be a customer.

  5. Thanks for posting this; the article was intriguing and your questions are interesting to think about. I agree that James Stewart reported the story well, backing himself up with phenomenal quotes and statistics. I like how he gave the history of Chipotle with a positive vibe before elaborating on how much they have messed up. I’m not sure the Jack in the Box example was totally necessary, but comparing Chipotle to different businesses helped serve his point that the company can bounce back with proper measures.

    Personally, I do not think these issues have resulted from non-GMO and local food sources. Realistically, these sources should be fresher and have less risk than food from major agriculture. I think the problem lies in their sanitation from store to store. It seems that people who have little or no experience in the food industry are employed by Chipotle, probably because they can get away with paying near minimum wage. I think it would be beneficial for the company to require Serv-Safe certification before working at their restaurant, or at least require all authority positions to be certified. This would ensure that these employees have been exposed to food-related risks and have been properly trained to maintain a sanitary restaurant. If they do not prove themselves and gain trust of customers soon, the company is most likely going to fail.

  6. This article is even more relevant than usual this week, with Chipotle giving away free burritos. I do think James Stewart did a good job with this report, as so many other Chipotle stories have biased undertones. He is honest about Chipotle’s “fall from grace,” but emphasizes the fact that Chipotle is a young company and they are not the only fast food chain to struggle with food safety. I do wish that he had interviewed one of the employees to get a glimpse of what food safety regulations are actually enforced.

    Eliminating GMOs and striving to provide fresh foods is not the problem– like Stewart said, there are plenty of restaurants that use fresh produce. As far as fast food chains go, Panera is striving for the same thing, and you don’t hear about constant E. Coli outbreaks from them. If anything, I think using fresh/locally grown foods will help Chipotle to bounce back faster. If some place like McDonalds went through this amount of bad publicity (within the same 6 month period), I can’t imagine people would be quick to trust them again. Chipotle has a very loyal following, and will continue its successful trajectory once this is all sorted out.

  7. I think the coverage of this story was very fair, as the author included critiques of Chipotle’s dedication to non-GMO, local food, but also noted that a plethora of restaurants embody these same ideals in their business practices. Therefore, while I originally thought the E. Coli outbreak might have been due to these practices, I reconsidered after reading this article. In addition, the fact that there were outbreaks at branches across the country, presumably all of which sourced their ingredients from different farms, it seems that health/cleanliness standards are by far the more likely cause. I thought the author could have included this point in his report, and I would have liked a more detailed explanation of the exact cause, if it is known.

    I liked the comparison to Jack in the Box in the article because I think this comparison is inevitable; I immediately thought of the restaurant upon hearing about the Chipotle outbreak. Given how successfully Jack in the Box has done recently, I expect Chipotle too will bounce back. In addition, Chipotle has more redeeming qualities to begin with, namely local sourcing and non-GMOS, that I think will encourage customers to remain loyal, as long as journalists continue to publicize the fact that the outbreak was not do to the food sources themselves, but the in-house practices.

    I will continue to eat at Chipotle. I like the restaurant’s food and prices too much to stop, and, as a vegetarian, would presume that I am at a somewhat lower risk for contracting E. Coli.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this article. I think that the author did a very fair job of relaying the appropriate information as well as trying to include both sides to the argument. Since this is such a newsy story it would have been very easy for the author to have written something really harsh against Chipotle, but I think that his inclusion of the quotes from their executives really gave an unbiased approach. I did like the comparison to Jack and the Box because it gave context to other big corporations that have gone through the same food scandals like this one. It also gave me hope that Chipotle would come out on top of this crisis since I do really enjoy the food and want them to be able to fix this issue.
    I think the question that you ask about the Chipotle risking safety codes for local foods is tricky because the reasons for the outbreaks were not only from the tomatoes but also from the sick employees. However I do think it is naive to not blame the local foods since they definitely were the reason for the salmonella outbreak. As for your follow up question about the health safety issues, I think that both Chipotle’s mantra for local food as well as their lack of heath safety are both contributing factors for their outbreaks. The health safety issue is a lot easier to fix since they can just impose new regulations as well as be stricter with their employees. However the issue of “local foods” can not really be changed since Chipotle’s core competence is their healthier approach compared to the other fast food chains.
    I definitely think that Chipotle will jump back from this whole scandal since this is really the first scandal that they’ve had to deal with. I also believe that if Jack in the box, an unhealthy fast food chain, can jump back from this then Chipotle most certainly can.

  9. I definitely don’t think Chipotle is going to go under because of this. Enough people love it for its unique structure, delicious food, and eco-conscious attitude that I think it will bounce back after they implement some changes. I went to Chipotle myself this afternoon for my free burrito, and I don’t regret it!

    I also have nothing bad to say about the reporter who wrote this story. I think it was well-written and gave good facts while keeping it interesting. His comparison to Jack In The Box was well placed, I think, and relevant. It gave the Chipotle chain a little bit of a heads up to what they are headed towards while also giving it a little hope as well.

    As for Chipotle’s food safety issues, I think there is no excuse for not implementing quality restaurant standards, even if it is a food chain. Every restaurant, especially when dealing with fresh meat like this, needs to put food safety on the top of their lists. And as much as I admire their initiative in keeping the food GMO-free and local, I think it’s a bit pointless because GMOs are not necessarily bad; for example, much of the fruits and vegetables we eat have been genetically modified throughout the centuries through careful breeding. Local foods are great as well, but industrial food companies have more rules they have to abide by to keep the products safe for consumption while, as you said, local food regulations vary. I assume they use local meat sources, which I am totally okay with because the meat industry makes me sick. The point is that I think that, no matter what their green crusade is, they should never slack on food safety, especially something as simple as making sure employees wash their hands.

  10. As a reader I do personally believe the author did a great job at reporting the story due to having perspectives of both critics and the company on who was at fault for the outbreaks. I do not think there is anything that could be further asked. However, I feel that instead of making a comparison to jack In The Box, they could have made a comparison to another restaurant that focuses on using fresh ingredients. I do not think that Chipotle jeopardize food safety with their crusade to eliminate GMOs, but I feel that these incidents highlighted the fact that they may not have had an adequate food safety infrastructure and a lack of health awareness. Moreover, I do believe Chipotle’s stock will bounce back and eventually its reputation, but there is a possibility that they will have a lingering stigma similar to the stigma peter pan peanut butter has.

    I personally prefer Qdoba and probably will not continue to eat chipotle.

    And the most important question of all: will this stop you from eating Chipotle?

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