Chipotle CEO Steve Ells spent Tuesday visiting Seattle restaurants to talk to employees about new food-safety rules.
Perfect food safety is not possible, but Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying to get as close to that ideal as it can with new procedures and testing inside and outside their restaurants, the company’s founder and CEO said Tuesday during a visit to Seattle.
“It is impossible to ensure that there is a zero percent chance of any kind of foodborne illness anytime anyone eats anywhere,” CEO Steve Ells said at the beginning of a day stopping by Seattle restaurants to talk to employees about new food-safety rules.
Although the Denver-based chain is sure the October and November E. coli outbreak was caused by bacteria in fresh food like tomatoes or cilantro, Ells said Chipotle officials will never know which item actually sickened more than 50 people who ate at their restaurants.
In addition to more testing along the supply chain, Chipotle is instituting more high-tech food tracking inside its restaurants and some new procedures, including cutting, washing and testing tomatoes at central commissaries to ensure they are as clean as possible.
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Ells said the company’s approach to food safety is similar to its focus on food quality, and none of the new procedures are impossible or very difficult to follow. It’s easier at some other chains to meet the highest food-safety standards because everything is cooked, processed or frozen, which Ells said is not the Chipotle way.
Tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, celery and onions have all been implicated in recent outbreaks of food-borne illness.
Once fresh vegetables are exposed to E. coli or other bacteria, it’s difficult to wash away. Cooking is one of the few sure ways to kill most bacteria. Since Chipotle isn’t willing to change its menu and cook everything, Ells acknowledged the need to go to extra lengths to ensure its fresh food is free of bacteria.
Monsour Samadpour, president and CEO of IEH Laboratories, the company that helped Chipotle set up its new safety protocols, said the new systems are unique and years ahead of what’s done at other restaurants.
Ells would not say how much the new testing and safety protocols will cost the chain of more than 1,900 casual Mexican restaurants.