July 7, 2020

Chipotle Mexican Grill Pays $25 Million In Criminal Charges After Outbreak

Chipotle Mexican Grill is paying a $25 million fine in criminal charges related to the company’s involvement in foodborne illness outbreaks that sickened more than 1000 people between 2015 and 2018. The U.S. Department of Justice announced this news in a press release.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Pays $25 Million In Criminal Charges After Outbreak

Chipotle was charged with adulterating food in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The company agreed to a three-year deferred prosecution agreement that will let it avoid conviction if it complies with an improved food safety program. The $25 million criminal fine is the largest ever in a food safety case.

Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a statement, “This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the food services industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food safety policies. The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce food safety laws in order to protect public health.”

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna for the Central District of California said in a statement, “Chipotle failed to ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols, resulting in hundreds of customers across the country getting sick. Today’s steep penalty, coupled with the tens of millions of dollars Chipotle already has spent to upgrade its food safety program since 2015, should result in greater protections for Chipotle customers and remind others in the industry to review and improve their own health and safety practices.”

The charges stem in part from norovirus and Clostridium perfringens outbreaks. There were at least five foodborne illness outbreaks linked to the company between 2015 and 2018 that were connected to restaurants in Los Angeles, Boston, Virginia, and Ohio. The problem was apparently store-level employees who did not follow company food safety protocols at those restaurants and who were encouraged to work while sick.

In December 2015, a norovirus outbreak at a Chipotle restaurant in Boston sickened 141 people. A sick employee worked after vomiting in the restaurant. Two days later, that employee helped package a catering order for a Boston College basketball team; many of those students were sickened.

In July 2018, about 647 people who ate at a Chipotle restaurant in Powell, Ohio were sickened with Clostridium perfringens. The local health department found critical violations of food regulations, including those specific to time and temperature controls for lettuce and beans.

Some employees who worked for the company from 2015 to 2018 reported inadequate staffing and food safety training. They also said they felt pressure to work while sick.

Chipotle agreed to develop and follow an improved comprehensive food safety compliance program. Management is also going to work with its Food Safety Council to evaluate the company’s food safety audits, restaurant staffing, and employee training.

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