Chipotle Gets Proactive, Alters Recipes To Counter E. Coli Scare

PHOTO: Greg E. Mathieson, Sr./REX Shutterstock
Chiptole is shaking things up in its kitchens, changing the ways in which it cooks its food following a recent E. coli scare left over 50 people sick and forced restaurant closures in nine states.

According to the Associated Press, the Mexican food chain will dip its onions in boiled water before they are chopped. Raw chicken will be marinated in resealable plastic bags, rather than bowls. And cilantro will be added to freshly cooked rice, in order to ensure it will be heated.

All of this is in hopes of killing germs that could cause food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli, salmonella, and the norovirus.

Other changes to take effect in the next weeks: Cheese is set to arrive in restaurants pre-shredded. Onions and other vegetables (like jalapeños) will be soaked in lemon or lime juice to kill off germs, and tomatoes, cilantro, and other ingredients will be no longer be chopped in stores. Instead, they'll be chopped in a "centralized location" and will be tested before being sent out.

Also, Chipotle will now test 60 samples of every 2,000 pounds of steak before it's sent to stores and will implement a similar testing plan with its chicken.

Back in February, Chipotle noted in its annual report that its motto of making "Food With Integrity" could potentially be a part of its problem. The eatery uses fresh produce and meats, rather than frozen ingredients, like most other fast food chains. Since it relies on "traditional cooking methods" like in-store chopping rather than "automation," there's room from human error when it comes to how food is prepared.

This past year, Chipotle was forced to close locations in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, New York, and California due to heath scares. A total of 45 people were sickened; 16 were hospitalized. No one has died from any Chipotle-related illnesses.

The eatery has also said it does not know — and may never know — what caused the recent scare that is reeking havoc on the brand's reputation. Analysts say Chipotle will suffer a year of sales declines, with one even predicting that the downturn could last even longer thanks to social media, which has made people more aware of the E. coli scare.

Chipotle CEO Steve Ells apologized to America earlier this month, taking out a full-page ad in 61 newspapers across the country, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Ells wrote: "The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry."

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