Chipotle Mexican Grill locations nationwide will shut down briefly next month as the popular fast food chain attempts to recover from a series of isolated but highly publicized outbreaks of food-borne illness.
The company’s sales and the value of its formerly high-flying stock have suffered through reports of patrons sickened by E. coli and norovirus over the past six months.
None of the outbreaks have been reported in the Capital Region, and the six locations in the area have all had clean bills in their latest health inspections, with zero violations found at four sites and a combined four “non-critical” violations at the other two.
Nevertheless, the locals are in lock-down mode, with employees barred by the company from speaking to the media. Several referred The Gazette to company headquarters for comment. (Chipotle restaurants are not locally operated franchises; they are all owned by the Denver-based company.)
Chipotle announced Tuesday it would shut down all of its 2,000-plus locations from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 8 so that all employees could be thanked for their efforts dealing with the situation and be briefed on steps being taken to prevent a recurrence.
• DNA-based testing of many ingredients designed to ensure quality and safety.
• Changes to food preparation and handling practices, including more processing in central kitchens rather than individual restaurants and different techniques for some raw meat preparation.
• Enhanced internal training.
• Paid sick leave, helping to ensure that ill employees have no incentive to work while sick.
The last point relates to the apparent cause of two norovirus outbreaks, one in Massachusetts and one in California, that sickened hundreds of patrons and were traced back to sick employees, The New York Times reported.
Smaller numbers of diners were sickened by E. coli in a handful of incidents in the past six months at the company’s 2,000-plus locations.
In Albany County, site of three Chipotle restaurants, county spokeswoman Mary Rozak said “There have never been any issues, there have never been any complaints.”
She explained that all establishments that serve food are visited by county health inspectors at least once a year; if a problem is found, or a complaint is lodged, remedial action and/or more inspections follow.
According to a state Department of Health database:
County inspectors last visited the Chipotle on Wolf Road in Colonie in February and the Chipotle in Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland in March and found no violations at either. They inspected the Wade Road Chipotle in Latham in October and found three non-critical violations.
Elsewhere in the Capital Region, the locations on Balltown Road in Niskayuna and Route 50 in Wilton were inspected in September and December, respectively, and no violations were found. One non-critical violation was reported at the Chipotle on Clifton Country Road last January.
The company said that it may never know what caused some of the E. coli outbreaks, the New York Times reported last week.
“If there’s a silver lining in this, it is that by not knowing for sure what the cause is, it’s prompted us to look at every ingredient we use with an eye to improving our practices,” company spokesman Chris Arnold told the Times.
Reach business editor John Cropley at 395-3104 or [email protected]