According to Reuters which covered a Chipotle conference call today, Chipotle received a new subpoena at the end of January, seeking information related to company-wide food safety matters dating back to January 1, 2013 and superseding an earlier subpoena that was limited to just one restaurant in Simi Valley.
As I said to Reuters: “The expanded investigation could focus on what managers at Chipotle’s headquarters knew about the conditions at restaurants around the country and when, said Bill Marler, an attorney representing the company’s customers.”
In a move widely seen as “what choice do you have?” Chipotle said it intended to fully cooperate in the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure to work with the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation and the US Attorneys’ offices in the Odwalla, PCA, DeCoster, Jensen Farms, ConAgra, Blue Bell and now Chipotle investigations and prosecutions. It’s all a matter of how big the fine and how much time behind bars.
On the plus side, here is what Chipotle plans for the future:
- High-resolution DNA based testing of fresh produce and meat before it ever makes it into its supply. Ells said that would mean any batch of problematic ingredients would be rejected “well before” it reaches the restaurants.
- Preparing items like tomatoes, lettuce, and bell peppers in central kitchens.
- Blanching ingredients like avocado, citrus, and jalapeños. This step of boiling items for five seconds destroys any microbes on the surface, executives said.
- Marinating chicken and steak after the preparation of other fresh items to prevent contamination.
- Items like cilantro will be marinated in citrus juice for an added layer of food safety.
- Co-CEO Monty Moran also highlighted the company’s new restaurant auditing programs, noting that every restaurant is being audited on a weekly basis and by a third-party vendor every quarter. Managers’ bonuses will be tied to those third-party audits.
- The company is holding a national meeting of all its employees on Feb. 8 for food safety training.
- Chipotle is completing a food tracing system, which will allow the company to track every ingredient in real time.