Chipotle Mexican Grill may never know the ingredient source of the E. coli outbreak that occurred in October and November. This is because the infecting inventory was no longer in house when the fast-casual chain that prides itself on serving foods described as hormone-free, organic, naturally raised, sustainable and unprocessed was identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) as the provider of the deadly pathogen.
By that time, the food had either been served or tossed. One thing Chipotle does know is that it will be much more discriminating with its suppliers on food safety precautions. While all of its sourcing practices may sound appealing to today’s consumers until someone gets sick, then “food with integrity” – the company’s tagline – is not all that attractive.
With Chipotle, the C.D.C. reported more than 50 people across nine states were infected. Chipotle purchases 64 different ingredients from more than 100 suppliers across the U.S., as reported by U.S. News & World Report, thus managing inventory can be challenging. Many of these suppliers are local farmers and processors who do not have the resources or the knowledge to implement proper food safety practices, including full traceability.
Jayson Lusk, president-elect of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in Milwaukee, told U.S. News & World Report: “If you want to make products fresh, that means you’re not going to use a preservative or it’s going to be unprocessed. It does provide a real tradeoff in terms of providing a safe product for the consumer.”