Chipotle experienced a challening fourth quarter while facing an expanded criminal probe.
Chipotle is bringing in an academic expert to direct food safety.

DENVER – Chipotle Mexican Grill named Kansas State Univ. Prof. James Marsden executive director of food safety, the Wall Street Journal reported. Marsden will oversee food safety protocols at Chipotle’s 2,000 restaurants.

Dr. Marsden is a Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Security at K-State and associate director of the Biosecurity Research Institute located at the university. Marsden is food safety scientist and expert whose work has included control of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef and Listeria monocytogenes in processed meats. He has written extensively on food safety and quality, and has received numerous awards for research and teaching.

The appointment comes as Chipotle works to regain consumer trust in the wake of a series of foodborne illnesses linked to its restaurants. Chipotle’s sales and stock have been hammered by outbreaks of E. coli and Norovirus linked to some of the company’s restaurants. In response to the outbreaks, Chipotle took steps to improve its food safety practices. The company implemented high-resolution testing of all fresh produce and closed its stores in February for food safety training for its employees. Additionally, preparation of some items was shifted to central kitchens.

More recently, the chain has offered coupons for free food in an effort to win back customers. Still, the company said it expects to report its first quarterly loss as a public company, and that comparable sales at existing restaurants fell 26.1 percent in February.