- Hollis Johnson
Last week, news broke that Chipotle had closed a restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, following multiple reports of customers getting sick after eating there. Chipotle’s stock plummeted and more than 130 people claimed they had become ill after eating at the restaurant.
Now, CEO and founder Steve Ells needs to convince customers and investors that the chain has a plan to prevent another food poisoning scandal.
“We have isolated the failure that occurred,” Ells said in a call with investors on Tuesday.
According to Ells, the Sterling, Virginia restaurant had failed to comply with Chipotle’s safety regulations, specifically allowing an employee to work while sick.
“We made it clear to the entire company that we have a zero-tolerance policy” for not following food-safety measures, Ells said. “When followed, they work perfectly.”
The lack of compliance at the Sterling restaurant doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. According to some Chipotle employees at other locations, store managers have encouraged workers to not to follow certain regulations, forcing them to work while sick and lie when filling out food safety sheets.
To prevent another food poisoning outbreak, Ells said that the chain needs to create a “culture of compliance.”
In light of the Sterling outbreak, Chipotle has made it clear that there will be “severe” consequences when in-store employees do not follow safety procedures. The company is launching additional training and communications efforts to ensure that each location follows national policies, such as sending sick workers home.
“Compliance with our procedures is nonnegotiable,” Ells said.
The company is also working to strengthen early-warning systems that allows Chipotle to know when procedures are not being followed or food has been contaminated.
“No matter how advanced our programs are, it is not possible to eliminate all risks,” Ells said.