thumbs_up_largeWill Chipotle’s supply chain also play ball?

A press release from Chipotle just landed in my inbox – here it is in part – with some of my thoughts.

Work on Chipotle’s enhanced food safety program began immediately after reports surfaced at the end of October that linked 11 Chipotle locations in Washington and Oregon to E. coli cases in those states.

Question, why did Chipotle wait until then to react instead of planning long ago, or even responding after the Minnesota Salmonella outbreak that sickened 64 this last summer, the Norovirus outbreak in California that sickened nearly 100 at about the same time, or the July E. coli outbreak that sickened 5 in Seattle – at one of the same restaurants implicated in the October outbreak?

Specifically, Chipotle has set an objective to achieve the highest level of safety possible. The company retained Seattle-based IEH Laboratories to help it identify opportunities to enhance food safety practices throughout its operations – from the farms that supply its food to its restaurants that prepare and serve it.

“While Chipotle’s food safety practices were already well within industry norms, I was asked to design a more robust food safety program to ensure the highest level of safety and the best quality of all meals served at Chipotle,” said Mansour Samadpour, Ph.D., CEO of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group. “I am happy to report that our proposed program was adopted in its entirety, without any modification. While it is never possible to completely eliminate all risk, this program eliminates or mitigates risk to a level near zero, and will establish Chipotle as the industry leader in this area.”

Chipotle’s enhanced food safety program is the product of a comprehensive reassessment of its food safety practices conducted with IEH Laboratories that included a farm-to-fork assessment of each ingredient Chipotle uses with an eye toward establishing the highest standards for safety. Specifically, program components include:

  • Implementing high-resolution testing of all fresh produce in which a series of DNA-based tests will ensure the quality and safety of ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants, a testing program that far exceeds requirements of state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as industry standards.
  • Initiating end-of-shelf-life testing where ingredient samples will be tested to ensure that quality specifications are maintained throughout the shelf life of an ingredient.
  • Pursuing continuous improvements throughout its supply chain using data from test results to enhance the ability to measure the performance of its vendors and suppliers.
  • Enhancing internal training to ensure that all employees thoroughly understand the company’s high standards for food safety and food handling.

Hiring IEH and implementing and “enhanced food safety program” should of course be encouraged. It is going to be interesting to see what happens if major players in the supply chain – chicken and fresh produce suppliers specifically – balk at submitting to this increased scrutiny.