‘Bacteria, viruses don’t care if food is GMO-free or natural’ and ‘safety of our guests is always our highest priority’ Chipotle still struggles with food safety

It’s difficult to fathom Chapman as an expert of anything, except garbage goals in hockey and bailing his PhD supervisor out of jail (as all graduate students should do).

family.guy.diarrheaI also hate being called an expert, but I know some stuff.

Dr. Chapman told Technician Online that, “Practicing good hygiene and having systems in place to verify that foods are cooked go a long way in preventing these sort of outbreaks. On the supplier’s side, systems are needed to make sure that suppliers are managing food safety on farms and the processing companies.”

On the individual’s side, Chapman said there is not much a customer can do to ensure that the food they get from a retailer is safe. Sanitation scores can be checked as a precaution but mostly it just comes down to trust in the retailer.

“The safety and well-being of our guests are always our highest priority,” said an official statement from Chipotle and Customer Service Consultant Olivia Beltran.

Stephanie K. Baer of The Pasadena Star-News wrote a few days ago that Chipotle’s food safety problems are about much more than where the Denver-based food company gets its ingredients, according to inspection data and experts.

Food safety experts say the fact there have been so many foodborne illness outbreaks in such a short period of time — six different outbreaks of E. coli, norovirus and salmonella in six months — it is indicative of a lack of training and oversight of the fast-food chain’s employees.

While there have been no confirmed reports of customers getting sick at Chipotle locations in Los Angeles County, major health hazards that cause foodborne illness are common at the food chain’s locations in the area.

Outbreaks at restaurants are commonly caused by ill employees and unsafe cooking or holding temperatures of perishable food, among other factors. And at Chipotle, where burritos are constructed with precooked and prepared food at a steam table, maintaining safe food temperatures is a recurring problem, according to inspection data and reports.

“There will always be foodborne illnesses, complaints and deficiencies, but what we see here appears to be repeated incidents that are similar in nature and that would suggest a systemic problem within the company that requires further investigation,” said Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

According to Los Angeles County Department of Public Health inspection data, health inspectors observed 126 violations for unsafe hot and cold holding temperatures at Chipotle restaurants — the most common health hazard observed across 84 locations in Los Angeles County — between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2015.

kenny.diarrheaAt the Simi Valley Chipotle, a health inspector who visited the location after the August outbreak found a container of beef held at 118 degrees — more than 15 degrees colder than required hot holding temperatures — according to Ventura County Environmental Health Division documents.

Similar food temperature violations were observed at the Boston restaurant where more than 130 people were sickened by norovirus and in Seattle and Portland area restaurants where the largest numbers of E. coli cases have been confirmed, online inspection reports show.

“It’s ridiculous that they can get that wrong so often,” said Doug Powell, a retired food safety professor and the publisher of barfblog.com.

While cooking food to the proper temperatures kills bacteria that is commonly found on raw meat, keeping food at the proper hot or cold temperatures is important to minimize the growth of pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, that may be in the food.

It’s a problem, Powell noted, that restaurants deal with industrywide — inspection data shows unsafe holding temperatures is the most common public health threat in Los Angeles County restaurants — but other prominent food chains seem to have a better handle on the issue.

Los Angeles County health inspectors observed 146 violations for unsafe hot and cold holding temperatures across 350 McDonald’s facilities between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2015 — 20 more than what was found at Chipotle facilities — according to inspection data. However, the problem was less common at McDonald’s, where facility and equipment maintenance were the most common health code violations.

 “To really get to the heart of this matter they really have to focus on the culture within individual stores and that’s hard with 1,900 outlets,” Powell said. “They have to focus on the things that really make people sick because bacteria don’t care or viruses don’t care if your food is GMO-free or natural.”

Yet despite these obvious flaws, people still go to Chipotle, much like my wife still professes in me.

The Washington Post reports that despite outbreaks of food-borne illness, die-hard Chipotle fans stand by their chain

For burrito brigade, it’s a matter of risk vs. reward

Anne and Jeff Owens love Chipotle. They love it so much that they went there on their wedding day four years ago— she, radiant in her strapless wedding gown and a veiled fascinator in her hair, and he, in his tuxedo and teal vest — to order burritos and pose for photos. They love it so much that the Blacksburg, Va., couple goes back each Aug. 13, their anniversary, to re-create those photos, with their now 3-year-old daughter in tow. They love it so much that even now — even with Chipotle Mexican Grill linked to hundreds of cases of illness because of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus — they still go at least once a week.

“We’re totally willing to throw up a little for tradition,” Anne says. She laughs, then pauses. “That’s probably gross,” she says. “That’s so gross!” But even if their anniversary had come during the height of the outbreak, she adds, “we totally would have gone.”

“Sorry but I still love chipotle. And you have to take risks when it comes to love,” tweeted @calisalafia. “since I continue to eat chipotle knowing the risk i guess you could say i would die for chipotle,” @GNVZT tweeted.

“Sometimes, something gets some sort of odd cult following, and it builds upon itself,” says Anne Owens, who knows of other Chipotle devotees through blogs that round up pictures of fan photos. “We’re among this strange underbelly of Chipotle-obsessed weirdos, and we love our kind. I feel like that doesn’t happen for McDonald’s.”

Her friends have tried to get her to stop eating at the restaurant.

That won’t work. Provide information, let people decide for themselves.

And here’s another lost cause, Johnny Cash, who today in 1968, played a show, which was recorded for his forthcoming live album at Folsom Prison.

  • Margaux S Milchen

    I care if it is both organic, and safe. One without the other is useless.