Chipotle said the company is taking aggressive steps to ensure the safety of its food.

DENVER – Food safety is front-and-center at Chipotle Mexican Grill. The company said it has implemented an enhanced food safety program following an outbreak of E. coli O26 infections that public health officials linked to Chipotle restaurants. 

Steve Ells, Chipotle
Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle

“When I opened the first Chipotle 22 years ago, I offered a focused menu of just a few things made with fresh ingredients and prepared using classic cooking techniques,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “We do the same thing today, even with nearly 2,000 restaurants, and we are working harder than ever to ensure that our food is safe and delicious.”

The company retained Seattle-based IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group to perform a farm-to-fork assessment of Chipotle’s ingredients and food safety practices. IEH is a provider of risk assessment, analytical services, laboratory services and food safety solutions for the food industry. The company said work on the enhanced program began after several E. coli infections were linked to 11 Chipotle locations in Washington and Oregon. In response, the company temporarily closed 43 restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.

As of Nov. 20, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 45 cases of E. coli O26 in six states. Sixteen case patients were hospitalized, CDC said. The US Food and Drug Administration said the investigation is ongoing to determine what specific food is linked to the illnesses.

In response to the outbreak, Chipotle said it is taking aggressive steps to ensure the safety of its food. Specifically, the company's enhanced program includes:

• high-resolution testing of all fresh produce;

• end-of-shelf-life testing of ingredient samples;

• continuous improvements throughout Chipotle’s supply chain using data from test results; and

• enhanced internal training to ensure that all employees understand the company’s standards for food safety and food handling.

“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. “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 opened with a single restaurant in 1993 and now operates more than 1,900 restaurants, including 22 Chipotle restaurants outside the United States.