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Chipotle Thinks It Can Stop Making People Sick With More Training

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again

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Chipotle Becomes First Non-GMO US Restaurant Chain Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Chipotle is metaphorically rolling up its sleeves and once again trying to break its cycle of foodborne illness outbreaks. The fast-casual chain whose name has become as associated with burritos as with crippling cases of diarrhea announced on Thursday that it would launch a nationwide retraining of its employees, NPR reports. Maybe this time the lesson will stick.

Chipotle’s latest attempt at winning back the trust of unsettled digestive systems nationwide comes after nearly 700 people fell ill after eating at a Chipotle in Ohio last month. The culprit: a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens that spread from food kept at unsafe temperatures.

The chain has gone through a seemingly relentless cycle of foodborne illness outbreaks over the past three years. In 2015 and 2016, Chipotle was buried by a food safety disaster that spanned nine states, sickened dozens of people, and landed at least 20 people in the hospital. Federal criminal investigations were launched and the chain became the target of multiple lawsuits — including several from angry investors. Chipotle’s attempts to repair its image included offering paid sick leave to employees, free burrito discounts, and new food handling procedures.

But the comeback plan didn’t keep the food safety scandals at bay as 13 more people were sickened in a norovirus outbreak in 2017 at a store in Sterling, Virginia. The company declared that it would institute a “zero-tolerance policy” on working while sick to ensure food safety protocols.

In the wake of the Ohio food poisoning incidents, CEO Brian Niccol reiterated Chipotle’s zero-tolerance policy for food safety violations in a statement to USA Today. In addition to the new round of food handlers trainings, Niccol said Chipotle “will be adding to our daily food safety routines a recurring employee knowledge assessment of our rigorous food safety standards.”

Chipotle, meanwhile, has been busy turning into Taco Bell. The company is currently testing out a variety of items including Mexican chocolate milkshakes and quesadillas and recently gave the people what they really want — bacon. The chain might just be on to something, if only it could stop sending people to the toilet or, you know, the emergency room.

Chipotle to Retrain Employees After Latest Outbreak Of Food Poisoning [NPR]
Chipotle to Retrain All Workers on Food Safety After Hundreds Fall Ill in Ohio [USA Today]
More Than 700 Sick Due to Chipotle Foodborne Illness Outbreak in Ohio [E]
Chipotle Slapped With Lawsuits Following Ohio Foodborne Illness Outbreak [E]