In the wake of a nightmare year for Chipotle, in which hundreds of people were sickened after eating at the popular Mexican-inspired fast food chain, the company says it is taking another step to clean up its act.

All of the roughly 2,000 Chipotle restaurants in the country will close for an unspecified period of time Feb. 8 while the company holds an all-staff meeting to address food safety issues that caused successive food poisoning outbreaks in recent months.

“We are still working on details,” said Chris Arnold, the company’s director of communications. “[O]ur restaurants will be closed part of the day Feb. 8. We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing, and answer questions from employees. “

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported the news inside a story on Chipotle’s marketing efforts, but few noted it then. It gained steam Friday morning after Arnold was quoted in the Oregonian talking about the closure.

The string of food scares has taken its toll on Chipotle’s bottom line. Last week, the company announced that its business was suffering more than it had anticipated. The chain had expected comparable restaurant sales (those at restaurants which have been open for at least 13 months) to fall by as much as 11 percent for the quarter ending Dec. 31, but revised the outlook, saying they are now slated to tumble by almost 15 percent. In December alone the metric fell by 30 percent.

The company’s stock was down slightly Friday morning in reaction to the news, adding to an already precipitous, months-long decline. Chipotle shares have fallen by 40 percent since September, when they reached an all time high.


The announcement follows what has been a difficult time for Chipotle. After years of sustained growth, and a seemingly flawless business, America’s darling fast-food company has fallen on hard times.

The crisis began last summer, when health authorities in Seattle linked a handful of illnesses to a company store in the city and almost 100 people fell ill after eating at a restaurant in California. In the fall, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon after authorities linked an E. coli outbreak to six restaurants in the region. Illnesses contracted at Chipotles were then reported in seven more states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Then in December, more than 100 students at Boston College fell ill after eating at a Chipotle, leading the company to close another restaurant. Boston health officials said the cause was norovirus, a common virus, while citing the restaurant for two health violations: improper handling of poultry and the presence of a sick employee. And the CDC announced it was investigating another E. coli outbreak that could be linked to the chain.

In all, more than 500 people fell ill in the latter part of 2015 after eating at Chipotle, according to a report by Food Safety News.

The company also revealed that it had been served with a grand jury subpoena last month. The subpoena is tied to a norovirus outbreak in August at a restaurant in Simi Valley, Calif., and is connected to an investigation by both the FDA and a U.S. attorney’s office in California. Chipotle said it’s cooperating with the investigation, which requires the company to divulge information and documents about the restaurant connected to the incident.

The upcoming all-staff meeting is the latest in a series of measures taken by Chipotle to ensure the safety of the food it serves to customers around the country.

In response to one of its biggest health and public relations challenges in its 22 year history, Chipotle has vowed to be a leader in food safety going forward, hiring well-known food safety expert Mansour Samadpour, the chief executive of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, immediately to to help improve its standards. So far, the company has pledged to sanitize its operations, introduce more-stringent testing of its ingredients, and administer a number of new protocols, including cleaning lettuce before its shipped, pre-cooking certain vegetables, and shipping chicken and steak in larger bags to reduce the amount of handling.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: