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Chipotle Closes Restaurants To Hold Meetings On Food Safety


If you left the office for lunch today, you might have noticed that a popular option was off the table. All 1,500 Chipotle restaurants were closed until 3 p.m. so employees could listen to a talk about food safety. Hundreds of people got sick from foodborne illnesses after eating at Chipotle in the past year. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, the company is trying hard to convince the public it won't happen again.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: It was an unorthodox move for a restaurant chain to take. But for Chipotle these are unorthodox times.


STEVE ELLS: This $10 million will enable us to conduct sourcing produce from -

ZARROLI: The company's co-CEO and founder, Steve Ells, addressed some 50,000 employees via satellite to outline the company's food safety programs. Vegetables are to be blanched. Tomatoes are to be washed, diced and washed again. There will be high-resolution testing of all ingredients. The decision to shut down today follows a series of food-borne outbreaks last year, including two separate E. coli incidents. Federal officials said last week that the E. coli scares are over, but John Stanton, professor of Food Marketing at St. Joseph's University, says the company still has to convince customers it's safe to eat there.

JOHN STANTON: When Chipotle came under such fire and committed really some serious problems, making so many people ill, they had to go beyond what might have been the norm.

ZARROLI: And Stanton says today's employee meeting was part of that effort.

STANTON: I think they had to do something to make it clear to employees that the company is very serious about food safety. And I think that, you know, one way is to stop everything, put the brakes on and say sit back and listen.

ZARROLI: At a Chipotle restaurant in Washington's Union Station today, a sign hung over the door saying it was closed for a meeting. Plenty of customers came by to get lunch. Virtually all of them had heard about the outbreaks, but customers such as Vajneet Vajaj (ph) say they aren't worried about getting sick.

VAJNEET VAJAJ: I think it's an isolated thing, it should be resolved. I don't see any big issues. I would go back and eat there.

ZARROLI: But the numbers say a lot of customers are taking the problem more seriously. Chipotle said last week that its revenue for the last three months of 2015 was down 6.8 percent from the year before. To recover the ground it's lost, Chipotle needs to persuade all of its customers to come back. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.

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