Chipotle claims to serve “food with integrity” and now, thanks to outbreaks of foodborne illness in multiple states that are being traced back to the restaurant chain, Chipotle can claim they serve “food that is dangerous.”
This week, Chipotle was forced to close one of its Boston locations after 141 people (at last count) became sick after eating there. In Washington and Oregon, Chipotle has closed 43 of its restaurants after another outbreak of salmonella and norovirus in their stores. In September, 64 people became sick and nine were hospitalized after eating in a Minnesota Chipotle restaurant.
It’s an interesting development for a restaurant that has long sought to convince people they should be afraid of everything—except, of course, Chipotle. The chain restaurant argues it’s better and more honest; that it cares for its customers and is far more responsible (to you, the earth, animals, etc.) than the competition.
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The company brags that it only buys local and organic ingredients. They’ve slammed competitors that use conventional farms, suggesting all farms are owned by some amorphous entity called “Big Ag,” while failing to explain that 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family owned and responsible for 85 percent of agriculture output.
The company has joined the anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) bandwagon, becoming the first national food chain to go non-GMO. The company website is replete with anti-GMO propaganda. For instance, Chipotle declares it is “G-M-Over it.” Cute. Yet they ignore one inconvenient truth about GM food—it’s been tested by health and safety organizations worldwide and consistently declared safe. If only Chipotle could say the same.
Capitalizing on American’s increasing fixation on being socially responsible with every action at every single moment of the day and night (even when you’re looking for cheap hangover food, because, let’s get real, Chipotle’s great for hangovers), the company has transformed itself from niche burrito chain to meeting place for socially aware hipsters.
If you’re looking for a safe space, head to your nearest Chipotle, where you’ll be given happy, environmentally friendly, humanely produced, totally delicious, high-fat, high-calorie, Michelle-Obama-would-never-let-one-of-these-burritos-near-a-kid meals. There’s no guilt associated with eating fast food when the company cares, right?
We’re Too Busy Posturing to Make Good Food
Given all this warm and fuzzy messaging from the company, it does strike many as slightly ironic that the company would ignore one of the basics of running a food business: don’t make your customers sick. That’s precisely what’s happened. Here’s a tip to Chipotle: No one cares about organic veggies, locally sourced avocados and tomatoes, antibiotic-free meat, and naturally raised pigs if he loses two weeks of work due to eating one of your integrity- (and bacteria-) filled burritos.
The company is feeling the heat. The company is reportedly expecting a noticeable drop in sales for the fourth quarter and has admitted that 57 percent of the public is aware of the food poisoning risk at Chipotle. In response, last week the company went into full damage control mode, deploying the company CEO to do a mea culpa on “The Today Show” with softball-throwing reporter Matt Lauer. The CEO said the company was launching new food safety measures and, in yet another ironic twist, actually said “We are making Chipotle ‘safest restaurant to eat at.’”
Wait, what? Making? But…but, I thought Chipotle was already the safest place to eat? Perhaps instead, Chipotle should focus a little less on PR and politically correct preening about food sourcing, and spend more resources on cleanliness and other measures to prevent food poisoning.
They might also realize that plenty of consumers yearn for the days when you could eat a meal without a lecture about being a responsible citizen of the world. Increasingly, people might like to order a sandwich without a mandatory side of guilt. Many hunger for the type of restaurant that finds it unpalatable to divulge where the animal was raised and how it was slaughtered.
It’s too bad it takes a potentially deadly outbreak of foodborne illness to remind a massive chain restaurant of its true responsibilities—to serve safe food.