C.D.C. concludes Chipotle investigation

by Monica Watrous
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In the recent quarter, Chipotle’s traffic fell 5% compared to a 19% increase in total visits in the year-ago quarter.

ATLANTA — A pair of E. coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill that sickened dozens appear to be over, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 1.

In the initial, larger outbreak, which was first detected by public health officials in Washington and Oregon in October, 55 people in 11 states were infected, 21 of whom were hospitalized. In the second, smaller outbreak, which was reported in December, five people in three states fell ill, one of whom was hospitalized. No deaths were reported in either outbreak. The specific food or ingredient linked to illness was not identified.

For Denver-based Chipotle, which has seen its sales and stock price plummet since the food safety crisis began, the C.D.C.’s conclusion of the investigation means the company may move forward with a marketing push to rebuild its consumer base. The company’s stock price moved up more than 5% in trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Feb. 1.

Chris Arnold, Chipotle
Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle

“We are pleased that the C.D.C. has concluded its investigation, and we have offered our full cooperation throughout,” said Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle. “Over the past few months we have taken significant steps to improve the safety of all of the food we serve, and we are confident that the changes we have made mean that every item on our menu is delicious and safe.”

In the recent quarter, Chipotle’s traffic fell 5% compared to a 19% increase in total visits in the year-ago quarter, according to The NPD Group, Chicago, which found other quick-service restaurants, including Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s, captured the burrito chain’s lost customers during the period.

Bonnie Riggs, NPD
Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD
“What our research tells us is that Chipotle has a strong loyal base from which to build its business back up relatively quickly,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD. “To win back the trust of their former customers, Chipotle will need to continually communicate all of the ways in which they are preventing any future outbreaks and prove to them that they able to deliver on their ‘food with integrity’ promise.”
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