Chipotle has recently closed 43 of its stores in Oregon and Washington due to an outbreak of E. coli.
It’s kind of upsetting that it’s easier for foodborne illness to be spread when whole, unfrozen ingredients are being used, but this kind of challenge seems to be the one that Chipotle wants to take on. It brands itself as something better for consumers and for the Earth, but in all honesty restaurant ideals tend to break down when it comes to the day to day operations in kitchens, which are far away from the people that own the brand.
Chipotle closed all of its stores in the area when only a fraction of them were confirmed to have issues. This is a step that shows some foresight and consideration but doesn’t tackle the underlying issue.
Most people think of foodborne illness as being caused by undercooked meat or unpasteurized dairy. E. coli can be found in undercooked animal products, but it is also found on raw fruits and vegetables, which definitely haven’t reached the 140 degree temperature that kills the bacteria.
Cooked food at a resting temperature below 140 degrees can be cross contaminated, even if the food was originally safe to eat. This often occurs in environments where several different foods are handled in a short period of time to make a single meal, like the preparation of a burrito for example.
I’m not defending Chipotle in any way by saying this. The restaurant chain has also recently been the source of a salmonella and a norovirus outbreak. Sure, this might be coincidence, as the salmonella issue happened in Minnesota, and the norovirus spread in California. Still it’s doubtful, as both cases were pretty recent, in September and August.
The food handlers permit required to work at Chipotle is the same one people test for to work at Starbucks, though handling produce and handling packaged pastries are two completely different types of work. I’ve never taken the test, but I’ve seen enough of it to know that it requires a little knowledge above what one would learn in a middle school cooking class.
Plus, people who prepare food in restaurants rarely eat the food they make and definitely not a significant proportion of what they serve. They’re disconnected from the impact of every action they take behind the counter.
This issue with hygiene isn’t one restricted to a lack of education. I’m not speaking against the awareness or intelligence of Chipotle workers and this level of oversight is not only present in food services.
The fact that this negligence was so widespread in a highly educated portion of the population is scarier than the possibility of getting food poisoning from someone working minimum wage.