Chipotle shuts for staff food safety meeting

Chipotle, which in 2013 launched the short film “The Scarecrow” as part of a campaign focused on fresh ingredients, shut all its stores Monday for a live-streamed nationwide staff meeting on food safety. (Chipotle Mexican Grill via YouTube)

Reuters — U.S. burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill shut its stores for four hours on Monday to hold a nationwide staff meeting, where CEO Steve Ells apologized for E. coli and norovirus outbreaks and laid out the company’s recently developed food safety program.

Chipotle also said it would spend about $10 million to help local suppliers adhere to the company’s new safety measures.

The popular burrito chain had already told investors in December about its plans to increase testing of ingredients and centralize some processing of food.

The meeting, excerpts of which were broadcast over Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope and in tweets, started at 11 a.m. ET, hosted by Ells and co-CEO Montgomery Moran.

The company said more than 50,000 employees tuned in via satellite in more than 400 viewing locations, including theaters.

Ells said he was deeply sorry that some people became ill after eating at Chipotle. “Committed to make sure it won’t happen again,” Ells said at the meeting, according to tweets from the company’s official Twitter handle.

Chipotle’s shares have lost nearly a third of their value and sales have plunged about 30 per cent since November, when the first reports of E. coli sickness linked to the chain emerged.

The E. coli outbreak, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Feb. 1 appeared to be over, started in October last year and sickened more than 50 people in 14 states.

The company announced a slew of new food safety measures in December, which involved preparing bell peppers, tomatoes and lettuce in a central kitchen instead of its individual restaurant kitchens.

The company also said it would blanch avocados, onions and jalapenos, before they were used.

Company executives on Monday outlined the same food safety measures.

Ells said the food safety changes would not compromise taste or its commitment to “food with integrity,” a policy that focuses on using organic produce and antibiotic-free meats when those ingredients are available.

Last week, the chain reported its first decline in quarterly same-store sales as a public company, hurt by a sharp drop in customer visits due to the outbreaks.

The company also said earlier this month it was the subject of a national criminal investigation, related to an outbreak.

Reporting for Reuters by Siddharth Cavale and Subrat Patnaik.

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