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Chipotle Blames Norovirus Outbreak on a Sick Employee

The chain says they now have a “zero-tolerance policy”

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Steve Ells is sorry about that whole norovirus thing: Yesterday on Chipotle’s quarterly earnings call, the Chipotle founder and CEO addressed and apologized for last week’s food safety debacle that reportedly sickened more than 100 people who ate at a Virginia store.

“We deeply regret that anyone became ill and would like to apologize to those who are affected,” Ells said.

Asked by an investor if he felt the company was doing enough “damage control” following the events of last week, Ells replied, “We need to ensure that we do a much, much better job after the events of last week… and we take this very, very seriously.” Ells explained that the company did a “thorough investigation” following the norovirus incident and found that the Sterling, Virginia store was not strictly adhering to the company’s food safety protocols. “We believe someone was working while sick,” Ells said.

Many of those food safety protocols were put into place or strengthened following Chipotle’s E. coli and norovirus disasters of 2015, events which caused its profits to plummet by 95 percent last year.

“Our protocols are excellent... but you need to ensure you’re following the protocols,” Ells said. “When followed, they work perfectly.” He also noted that the company now has a “zero-tolerance policy” to ensure adherence to food safety protocols, implying that managers who are found to be not properly enforcing them will be terminated.

During today’s earnings call, executives also revealed that the company will debut its very first drive-thru window this fall in Ohio, and that it’s planning to expand its queso test to additional locations as of August 1 (the new queso is currently only being served at the company’s test kitchen store in Manhattan). One thing that was not addressed by company executives on today’s earnings call: the rats that allegedly fell from the ceiling at a Dallas Chipotle last week.

At Long Last, Chipotle Is Adding a Drive-Thru Window [E]
Chipotle Reopens Virginia Store Following Norovirus Outbreak [E]
More Chipotle Coverage on Eater [E]