The Chipotle Case: Restaurant closing to improve food safety protocols

Megan Conley, Lifestyle Editor

 Image courtesy of unsplash.com

Image courtesy of unsplash.com

Chipotle Mexican Grill is closing all of its restaurants on Feb. 8 to address food safety protocols after a number of reported outbreaks of sicknesses were associated with the restaurant. The franchise was held accountable for five separate food poisoning outbreaks in 2015 that sickened more than 350 people, according to Food Safety News.

Although the most commonly reported infections were E. coli, there were also reported cases of norovirus and salmonella that infected more than 300 customers, with the most recent case being reported in Dec. 2015.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “the epidemiologic evidence collected during this investigation suggested that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants was a likely source of both [E. coli] outbreaks.”

Chipotle released a statement on its website apologizing for the outbreaks, and stated that it is partnering with a food safety testing company based out of Seattle to improve its food safety protocols. 

Christina Eddy, professor of biology at North Greenville University, explained what can cause food safety problems in restaurants.

“Microorganisms that cause food poisoning can grow in the food at certain temperatures, so it’s important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot. When you keep food outside of those temperatures, we call that the danger zone, which is 34 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees,” said Eddy.

She also elaborated on how simple washing of foods isn’t always enough to prevent these types of diseases.

“There are certain kinds of food that we eat, especially processed vegetables, where the bacteria can actually enter into the inside of the food and when that happens, you can’t wash it off,” said Eddy. 

For bacteria similar to the E. coli found in Chipotle, the number of organisms present in the food can be as low as 67 and cause consumers to develop problems. 

"Even though the number of organisms might be very low, some people can become ill from a very low number of bacteria. If the food is mishandled, the bacteria can start to multiply," said Eddy.

Although there are no protocols that can completely prevent these events from occurring, Eddy encourages restaurant patrons to feel comfortable when enjoying their food in these establishments. 

"As far as eating out, go out and enjoy your food and trust that the people are handling the food correctly," said Eddy.