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What Chipotle will be doing when it closes 1,900 stores on February 8

By Marcia Gagliardi

You may want to find a different place to get your burrito in a bowl for lunch on Monday, February 8, since all 1,900-plus Chipotle locations across America will be closed from 11am–3pm (#chipotlepocalypse!).

While some consumers may wonder if it's for a national hose-down of all locations by CDC workers in hazmat suits, it’s actually a lot less Contagion than that: Chipotle is holding a national employee meeting at their headquarters in Denver, and broadcasting it live to all employees. They will be talking about recent and future food safety changes—you know, how and why more than 500 people got sick from E.coli, norovirus and salmonella since July 2015, and how the company will prevent outbreaks from happening again.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently conducted an investigation, and as of February 2 declared the E.coli outbreak (actually, outbreaks—there were two) over. But the national investigation helped hatch plenty of conspiracy theories, including accusations of bioterrorism and corporate sabotage by the evil GMO industry (Chipotle is known for their anti-GMO stance in the ingredients they use). 

Some recent changes in Chipotle's food safety program include:

  • “High-resolution DNA-based testing of many ingredients designed to ensure the quality and safety of ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants—a testing program that far exceeds requirements of state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as industry standards.”

  • “Changes to food prep and food handling practices, including washing and cutting of some produce items (such as tomatoes and romaine lettuce) and shredding cheese in central kitchens, blanching of some produce items (including avocados, onions and limes) in its restaurants, and new protocols for marinating chicken and steak.”

  • “Enhanced internal training to ensure that all employees thoroughly understand the company’s high standards for food safety and food handling.”

  • “Paid sick leave helping to ensure that ill employees have no incentive to work while ill.”

You can read more details about things like how they now make their salsa and handle tomatoes, and catch up on all the latest on their Food Safety Update page; expect more information to be released after the meeting. With sales down 36 percent at established restaurants in January 2016 (compared with the same time last year), concerned stockholders and lawsuits, you can bet the company is keen on fixing things, stat, while getting consumers back in the door and feeling confident that their tacos aren't coming with a side of food-borne illness.

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