Clearly we live in a post-Chipotle world, where there is an elevated focus on food safety,” said Panera Bread President Drew Madsen during its earnings call in April. That’s part of why the chain bulked up its efforts to improve food safety, such as bringing in expert consultants, as it moves toward more natural ingredients. And it’s why Panera expects to spend $2 million more on food safety initiatives this year than it anticipated.
Chipotle’s food safety fiascoes drove first-quarter sales down 29.7 percent over last year, and delivered a sucker punch to the company’s culture and marketing stance supporting local producers. The adoption of centralized kitchens to prep ingredients, DNA testing of product (which it said in May it might step back from) and hiring a dream team of food safety specialists all are recent moves it’s made to deliver on the promise from co-CEO Steve Ells to make Chipotle the “safest restaurant to eat at.”
While these chains, along with the other big guys, are tackling the broad issue of a supply chain that is “more complex and broken than anyone can ever imagine,” said Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, at the reThink Food 2015 conference, there are smaller steps restaurants are taking to make a measured and immediate difference. A look at Chipotle’s changes may be a good place to start.
Use natural sanitizers
Chipotle is marinating the chopped onions, jalapenos and cilantro it uses for salsa and guacamole in citrus juice. “This process brings out more flavor from these ingredients and adds another measure of food safety,” co-CEO Monty Moran said on an earnings call.