Operations

Chipotle must pay $25M fine in food safety case

The fast-casual Mexican chain announced an agreement with the federal government in the case stemming from foodborne illness outbreaks dating back to 2015.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Chipotle Mexican Grill must pay a $25 million fine in response to two misdemeanor counts of selling “adulterated food” stemming from foodborne illness outbreaks that began in 2015, according to an agreement announced between the fast-casual chain and the federal government Tuesday.

Chipotle must pay $10 million by June 1, followed by three payments of $5 million each every 30 days after that. The chain must also “enhance and maintain” its food safety program, according to the agreement.

As part of the agreement, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, the Department of Justice said it would dismiss its case against Chipotle after three years and not further prosecute the chain for any criminal or civil food safety violations, if the company pays the fines and abides by its food safety protocols.

“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events,” CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement.

Under the agreement, Chipotle “admits, accepts and acknowledges” that its restaurants committed a number of food safety violations, including failing to follow protocols to prevent sick employees from working, failing to hold food at proper temperatures, and inadequate staffing and training.

In late 2015, dozens of customers reported E. coli symptoms, with the infection later traced to Chipotle stores in multiple states. The outbreak forced Chipotle to close dozens of stores.

Not long after, more than 100 customers were sickened with norovirus in an outbreak traced to a Chipotle in Boston.

Chipotle was linked to other foodborne illness outbreaks until July 2018.

“Over the last four years, we instituted several enhancements to our food preparation and food handling practices to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses,” Kerry Bridges, Chipotle’s vice president of food safety, said in a statement. “These measures include reducing the number of employees who come into contact with ingredients, safeguards to minimize the risk that an ingredient is undercooked, and sophisticated microbiological testing of raw ingredients to help ensure quality and safety before they are shipped to restaurants.”

The foodborne illness outbreaks caused Chipotle’s stock prices to plummet. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, its stock had recovered to preoutbreak levels.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings Tuesday afternoon.

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