The Real Reason Chipotle Just Got Hit With A $25 Million Fine

Chipotle may be one of the nation's best-beloved Mexican food chains, but a few years back, it was involved in a major scandal. Not only was there a widespread E. coli outbreak that temporarily closed locations in multiple states, but there were four different norovirus outbreaks between 2015 and 2018 that made over 1,100 people ill. Norovirus caused symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps for customers in the Los Angeles area, Virginia, Ohio, and Boston, including members of the Boston College basketball team.

The norovirus cases led to criminal charges being filed against Chipotle, as these food poisoning incidents were found to have been caused by poor food safety practices such as failing to keep the food at temperatures that would prevent pathogen growth. Associated Press reports that the case has recently been settled in Los Angeles federal court with Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. agreeing to pay a fine of $25 million, something that sets a new record for the highest payout ever awarded in a food safety case.

How Chipotle is moving on from the norovirus incident

While both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Justice admit that they levied this massive fine to make an example out of Chipotle, it seems the chain's already learned its lesson and taken steps to mend its ways, food safety-wise. Restaurant Dive reports that Chipotle's former head of food safety, James Marsden, retired in late 2018 after the last norovirus outbreak, and that since this time the company has brought in new leadership and implemented a comprehensive overhaul of its food safety protocols.

Current vice president of food safety Kerry Bridges states that Chipotle has taken steps including reducing the number of employees handling each ingredient, tracing the movements of ingredients in the supply chain, introducing sophisticated testing methods to determine whether raw ingredients may be contaminated, and deploying a mobile platform capable of tracking operations to ensure that all food safety steps are carried out in each restaurant. Chipotle's CFO Jack Hartung has also spoken out about Chipotle's commitment to change, saying that the chain is "ready to put this old matter behind us".

As to how the public feels about it, the most recent Marketforce Information poll (August 2019) found Chipotle ranked as the nation's top Mexican fast-casual chain for the third year in a row. Just goes to show, we Mexican food fans are a pretty forgiving bunch. Just give us our free guac, and we'll call it all good, no pasa nada!