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Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.53.36 AMHello from Chicago and the Food Safety Summit.

Reuters reported late last night that Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG.N) has retained two (additional) leading food safety experts – including a critic of the burrito chain’s early response to disease outbreaks last year – as it redoubles its efforts to guard against health scares.

David Acheson, a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was brought on as an adviser, Chipotle told Reuters.

The company also confirmed it is working with David Theno, a food safety consultant and former Jack in the Box executive who is credited with fixing food safety at the fast-food chain following a deadly E. coli outbreak in the 1990s.

The two are respected among food safety experts, and their involvement may signal an expansion in Chipotle’s reforms. But the scope is not yet clear.

p12502846_b_v8_aaIn March, the company announced it had hired James Marsden, a former meat science professor at Kansas State University, as executive director of food safety.

Chipotle’s initial response emphasized testing ingredients for pathogens with the goal of stopping any source of illness from getting into its restaurants. The company touted a testing regime set up by another consultant, Mansour Samadpour, chief executive of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group.

A few other top safety gurus weighed in:

“If I had to put together a dream team to fix something, you could do a lot worse,” said Don Schaffner, a food science professor at Rutgers University. But, he added: “I’ve begun to wonder a little bit about too many cooks. Each of those guys is going to have a perspective on what to do to fix the problem.”

Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said he expected the group’s focus “would likely be more on food safety preventive controls and less on food testing.”

It is going to be interesting to see how this shakes out.  It does remind me a bit of something I wrote several months ago – “12 Steps to Food Safety.”  Honestly, Chipotle still has some work to do.

unnamed-300x150-300x150Were I  the CEO of a 1,900-store restaurant chain with 45,000 employees (with a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 1522:1), and just had six foodborne illness outbreaks in six months, what would I do this coming Monday morning?Frankly, with my stock price in free fall – losing $6 billion in value in less than two months – just staying in bed in the fetal position might be welcome.   However, I did not get to be a multi-millionaire hiding in bed. So, here are the things you would see me doing starting  bright and early Monday morning.

  1. Park my large ego. Monetary success can and does breed a sense of otherness – especially when the core of your business culture is that your brand of “integrity” is better than your competitors. With a crisis of this proportion facing the company going humble is not a bad thing.
  2. It is time to be as open as possible. Why was the July E. coli outbreak in Seattle kept from the public by both public health and the company? What did I learn in the August Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and the Norovirus outbreak in California? Could have being open and learning from these three outbreaks have prevented the next two E. coli outbreaks and the Norovirus outbreak that has nearly brought my company to its knees?
  3. It is time to have a culture of food safety added to the “integrity” of the food. I have now learned that bacteria and viruses do not care a whit if my food’s ingredients are organic, sustainable, non-GMO and humanely raised.
  4. I am going to make mandatory reading Benedict’s book “Poisoned” and Yannis’s book “Food Safety Culture.”
  5. I am going to hire a vice-president of Food Safety. That person will report directly to me and to the Board of Directors. Like Dave Theno being brought in to address the Jack-in-the-Box crisis of 1993, this person will have the resources and access to decision makers to create a culture of food safety from the top down.
  6. With input from the new vice-president, we will hire the consultants and experts necessary to create a sustainable food safety program that brings even more meaning to our core value of “food with integrity.”
  7. I would invite input from regulators, academics, public health officials, and yes, the public to add to and critic the new food safety program.
  8. The company’s new mantra – “Safe Food with Integrity” – will be completely transparent and shared with all – including our competitors.
  9. I am going to rehire the two Boston employees fired last week and instead fire someone in management that allowed the company to drift into a position that allowed these outbreaks to occur. I am likely not going to fire myself, but I certainly will take a cut in pay to $1 a year until the ship gets off the rocks – same with the existing top management.
  10. I will stop “shooting the messengers.” This crisis was not caused by public health announcements (one could argue in fact had the July outbreak been announced perhaps all others would have been avoided) or the coverage by the media. We like it when public health covers for us and when the press fawns, its time to grow up and take the good with the less so.
  11. Hit the reset button. Shut every store and open them only when each store is actually ready – not just “deep cleaned” – but ready from a structural and management (food safety culture) perspective.
  12. Invite the customers back with open arms – they will come back.