Chipotle still hasn't pinpointed which ingredient was responsible for the E. coli disaster that drove customers away from its stores and caused its stock to plunge, but the chain is doing its damnedest to ensure an outbreak like that doesn't happen again. In addition to more stringent guidelines for food suppliers and new food-handling procedures that involve shredding cheese and cutting tomatoes at central kitchens where food can be tested for bacteria, Chipotle announced today that it will begin offering employees paid sick leave.
By removing employees' incentive to come to work when they're ill, the burrito chain hopes to further reduce the risk of making its customers sick. A December norovirus outbreak at a Boston Chipotle was traced back to an employee who came to work ill; that individual and the supervisor on duty were later fired. The mother of a 16-year-old boy who was sickened during the Boston outbreak filed a lawsuit against the company in December; add to that more lawsuits related to the E. coli outbreak and a criminal investigation, and things are looking pretty bleak for Chipotle these days — but nonetheless, industry experts seem confident the chain can recover.
Chipotle plans to shut down stores on February 8 for a company-wide meeting from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during which company leadership will go over the new safety guidelines with employees, including the paid sick leave. Meanwhile, the chain is stepping up efforts to lure back customers by promising free food.