- Hollis Johnson
- Chipotle on Wednesday said it was replacing its CEO, Steve Ells, who founded the burrito chain more than two decades ago.
- The rate of self-reported foodborne illnesses is higher for Chipotle than for any other restaurant chain in the US on IWasPoisoned.com.
- The data indicates another outbreak attributed to Chipotle is possible within the next six to 12 months, according to the website’s founder.
Chipotle on Wednesday said it was replacing its CEO, Steve Ells, who founded the chain more than two decades ago.
The company is searching for a new CEO amid reports that food-safety problems are persisting more than two years after an E. coli outbreak sent the company’s sales sliding.
The rate of self-reported foodborne illnesses at Chipotle is at least nine times as high as at all other restaurant chains on IWasPoisoned.com, says Patrick Quade, the website’s founder.
“The rate of food poisoning reports attributed to Chipotle continues to be multiples higher than peers,” Quade told Business Insider, referring to data pulled from his website, which allows people to self-report illnesses. “At this rate of reporting, our data indicates we should expect to see another outbreak attributed to Chipotle sometime in the next six to 12 months.”
Chipotle says the source of the data is inaccurate.
“Self-reported data of this kind includes no clinical validation and is largely speculative and inaccurate,” the Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Business Insider. “Using such unscientific data that is often reported anonymously to try to predict future outbreaks seems like little more than irresponsible speculation.”
IWasPoisoned.com allows people to self-report suspected foodborne illnesses. The crowdsourced nature of the data leaves room for a large margin of error, but the website has a track record of accurately spotting illness outbreaks even before health officials or restaurant managers are aware.
For example, Quade was the first to spot the norovirus outbreak at the Chipotle in Sterling, Virginia, in July following a cluster of reports made to IWasPoisoned.com. Chipotle closed its restaurant for several days following the outbreak.
It’s highly possible that people are more likely to report getting sick after eating at Chipotle because of the restaurant chain’s past issues with food safety. Many people also tend to blame whatever they ate most recently for an illness, when in reality symptoms of sicknesses like norovirus don’t show up for 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of infected food.
But even accounting for such anomalies, Chipotle’s illness reports far outnumber its peers’, Quade says.
Another outbreak would be brutal for Chipotle.
Just last week, Chipotle’s stock slid more than 5% after an actor claimed he “almost died” after eating at the chain. Similarly, shares fell more than 14% in July after the norovirus outbreak at the restaurant in Sterling.
Chipotle has been fighting to restore its public image since the 2015 E. coli outbreak that affected restaurants in 14 states and sent sales sliding by more than 30%. The company has lured customers back to its restaurants with millions of dollars in free-food offers, and it has also dramatically changed the way it prepares food in hopes of preventing another outbreak.
But the volatility of the company’s stock in relation to even isolated reports of suspected illnesses shows Chipotle still has work to do to restore the trust of both customers and investors.