Chipotle Reveals Changes to Food Prep to Address Safety Concerns

With nearly 500 people becoming sick after eating at the popular Mexican joint, its food safety standards are getting an overhaul.
Chipotle tacos. (Photo: Facebook/Chipotle)
Dec 23, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Those craving a trip to their local Chipotle Mexican Grill may soon be able to rest a littler easier while chowing down on a taco trio or burrito bowl. The fast-casual restaurant revealed specific changes to the preparation of its ingredients to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Those changes include blanching onions in boiling water to kill pathogensand macerating them in lemon or lime juice to further eliminate any potential germs, The Associated Press reports. Chicken will be marinated in plastic bags instead of bowls, cilantro will get tossed in alongside hot rice to kill off microbes, and cheese will arrive at the restaurants already shredded.

Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold told Fortune that the new regulations, which are expected to be implemented in a matter of weeks, “will reduce the risk of contamination to a level near zero.”

In recent months, the chain has suffered from E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks. All told, nearly 500 people across 10 states became ill from eating at the Mexican-food chain.

Branded as “food with integrity,” Chipotle has long promoted its use of fresh produce but has also been aware that it comes with some risk. In a February report to investors, Chipotle executives warned that using those fresh ingredients and the employees’ manual preparation techniques could put the chain at a higher risk of food-borne illness outbreaks.

Now, as stock prices, sales, and customers’ trust have plummeted, the company has turned to IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group, a food safety service, to tighten its regulatory standards.

Part of the plan is to move some of the preparation to a centralized kitchen. While the onions will still be chopped at each restaurant—they’d smell bad if prepped too early—cilantro and tomatoes will be tested before heading out to local restaurants, giving experts a chance to inspect the food. Raw tomatoes containing salmonella led to an outbreak in Minnesota.

While part of the chain’s appeal—or at least its marketing campaign—was that its ingredients were prepared on-site, Arnold is confident that these new measures won’t alter how the food tastes and instead will help turn the chain into a leader for food safety.