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Consumer advocacy group, union detail potential food safety threats at Chipotle

Ineffective unit audits and aggressive managerial practices could lead to another foodborne illness outbreak at the fast-casual chain, the groups allege in a report.
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill is at risk of another foodborne illness outbreak because of several breakdowns in its food safety process, according to a report released Thursday by the National Consumers League advocacy group and Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU) 32BJ.

The report, which interviewed 47 current and former Chipotle workers from 25 stores in New York City, listed a variety of concerns, including:

  • Employees being pressured to work while sick.
  • A managerial bonus program that incentivizes cutting corners on food safety.
  • Employees given advance notice of what are supposed to be unannounced food safety audits.
  • Understaffing, particularly in the grill position, which can lead to a lack of temperature checks on cooked protein.
  • High employee turnover, leading to a greater number of unskilled workers.
  • Lack of investment in kitchen equipment.

In 2015 and 2016, Chipotle was at the epicenter of a series of foodborne illness outbreaks that sickened dozens of consumers and cut the chain’s same-store sales by nearly a third. Both E. coli and norovirus were traced to Chipotle locations in multiple states.

“We are proud of our industry-leading food safety practices and we are committed to a culture of food safety in our restaurants where employees are supported and heard,” Chipotle’s Chief Reputation Officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement to Restaurant Business. “Chipotle’s engaged and hard-working employees are what makes us great, and we encourage our employees to contact us immediately, including through an anonymous 800 number, with any concerns so we can investigate and respond quickly to make things right.”

Schalow said Chipotle would “follow up on every allegation” once chain executives see the report.

She noted that all employees, including managers and hourly workers, are eligible for quarterly bonuses and that following proper food safety procedures is a requirement for receiving the extra incentive.

Among the recommendations made by the union and advocacy group are encouraging workers to use paid sick time, ensuring adequate food safety training for all employees, making sure food safety audits are unexpected and aiming to reduce turnover of hourly staff.

SEIU 32BJ has previously worked to increase the minimum wage to $15 and has also fought for workers at Chipotle and McDonald’s to unionize.

 

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