Towards the end of last year, many Chipotle restaurants had to be closed temporarily due to an E. coli outbreak in Oregon and Washington. A total of 4 Chipotle-related food contamination outbreaks occurred last year all throughout the U.S., one of them being made public only after the outbreak was over. Surprisingly, Chipotle failed to notify its customers about the apparent food contamination, and actually may have received some cover up by the local Public Health. This resulted not only in the company losing billions of dollars over the course of a few months, but also the trust of loyal customers. Luckily for Chipotle, none of the cases developed into a more serious condition or result in death, which would have definitely cost the company more than just profit. More recently, the FDA, CDC, and local officials investigated the E. coli outbreaks and have concluded that all outbreaks appear to have ended.
Bill Marler, an accomplished personal injury lawyer, poses an interesting question: could Chipotle have prevented its huge economic downfall had they announced its food was contaminated? Many possible outcomes could have resulted, although all would have been better than its current situation. Had the company disclosed its findings, it would have lost some profit almost immediately, yet its credibility would not have been tarnished and it wouldn’t have to have faced heavy legal backlash. It also would have been able to recover from such an economic loss much quicker.
Food establishments must keep certain food standards, as is required by the law. By disregarding this basic tenet, Chipotle has shown carelessness, and thus it could be facing criminal charges. For being a very popular and powerful company, it was very disappointing for many to see it undergo such times. The company has a loyal base of customers and it should seek to keep them in order to retain its status. Chipotle’s founder Steve Ells apologized for the difficult times and has formulated a comprehensive food safety plan which promises to improve its food handling in various ways.
This also leads to a last worrisome question: what else are large food companies hiding from their consumers?