DENVER — Chipotle Mexican Grill has launched a web site detailing new food safety procedures for its suppliers and restaurants. The site, chipotle.com/foodsafety, also includes a detailed timeline of the foodborne illnesses linked to the Denver-based burrito chain last year. The incidents include a case of norovirus in August in a Simi Valley, Calif., restaurant that sickened a reported 243 customers; a case of norovirus in a Boston area restaurant in December that sickened 143; cases of Salmonella in 22 restaurants in Minnesota and Wisconsin in August that sickened 64; and cases of E. coli in 11 states in October and November that sickened 60.
“The safety of our customers and the integrity of our food supply have always been our highest priorities,” Chipotle said. “That’s why after more than 20 years of operation without major food safety incidents, when Chipotle experienced several outbreaks of foodborne illness in 2015, we assessed every aspect of our food supply chain and restaurant procedures to ensure that the food we serve at Chipotle is as safe as possible.”
Foremost, the company has established strict guidelines for its suppliers to follow. Ingredients will be subject to high-resolution testing, which involves a large number of samples from a relatively small amount of an ingredient.
“For example, the cilantro we use gets tested twice — once in the field before harvest and again after it’s cleaned and ready to be packed,” Chipotle said. “In the field, trained food safety professionals collect samples from each cilantro field following a ‘Z’ pattern to ensure that the sample is both representative and statistically random. A field can only be harvested after the samples taken from it pass our tests.
“After harvest, the cilantro is cleaned and tested again before being packed. Just as in the case of field testing, the packed cilantro is only shipped to Chipotle restaurants once they have passed the test.”
Additionally, some ingredients, such as tomatoes, will be prepared in central kitchens to reduce the risk of contamination in a restaurant.
Chipotle also outlined a new set of procedures to prioritize safety within its restaurants. These include marinating chicken and steak only at the end of the night after other fresh ingredients have been prepped and shelved; blanching lemons, limes, jalapeños, onions and avocados to significantly reduce germs on the skin without affecting flavor; implementing a comprehensive range of cleaning and sanitizing protocols; following a rigorous inspection and audit program; and offering paid sick leave so workers may stay home when they are ill.
“None of these procedures interfere with the great taste of the food at Chipotle,” the company said. “In fact, some even make the food more delicious. For example, our process for preparing items like fresh tomato salsa and guacamole involves mixing the diced aromatics (like onions and jalapeños) in citrus juice before adding the other ingredients — a process also known as ‘maceration.’ While this serves as an additional food safety step, it also results in ingredients that taste even brighter and fresher.”
Chipotle also said it has committed to investing $10 million to help small local farmers meet the new safety standards.
“Not only is this good for our suppliers, it will help to ensure that our customers have access to an even larger supply of fresh and safe local produce,” Chipotle said. “These funds will enable us to support some of the best local growers around the country — from small- and medium-sized local growers to farmers who use techniques like greenhouses.”In conjunction with the web site, Chipotle closed its restaurants nationwide on Feb. 8 to conduct a four-hour food safety meeting with its employees.