Tips from Chipotle: How to Recover After an Outbreak

SALINAS, CA/USA - JANUARY 4, 2104: Chipolte Mexican Grill Sign. Chipolte is a chain of  casual dining restaurants specializing in burritos and tacos.
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The fast food chain Chipotle has taken quite a hit since their last E. coli outbreak, and they may find themselves on a long road to recovery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a statement in December 2015 when news broke regarding a new multi-state outbreak linked to Chipotle. In this particular investigation, they were looking into outbreaks that occurred in both Kansas and Oklahoma.

It would make sense that after several instances of E. coli outbreaks that the restaurant’s food standing is at great risk. An analyst at Cowen and Company, Andrew Charles, stated in a note to investors that the most recent outbreak does, in fact, pose risks for the restaurant’s fourth quarter sales. This was said after Cowen and Company had already downgraded Chipotle’s stock in December due to their sales being impacted from previous outbreaks. Having had so many outbreaks to date, it is no surprise that marketing efforts will be placed on hold to allow time to recover from all of the bad press and regain the consumers’ trust once again. But, is that even possible? How can Chipotle recover after an outbreak?

According to Sam Oches, who is the editor of QSR Magazine, the first step is to regain the consumer’s trust, but that will only happen if they trace the source of the E. coli problem. Otherwise, it could still be out there, and that means the potential for more outbreaks is very likely. A spokesman for Chipotle stated that they do in fact expect to see additional cases that stem from the same outbreak.

Since the problem began, Chipotle has completed a comprehensive reassessment of their food safety programs and put into place some plans for finding the best practices to source each of their ingredients. Implementing a plan to source ingredients will be a crucial step in their plan to recover after an outbreak of this magnitude. However, other essential steps need to be taken like:

  • Conducting high-resolution testing of all ingredients
  • Perform end of shelf-life testing of all ingredients
  • Continuously improve the supply system based on test results
  • Enhance food safety training for the staff
  • Schedule frequent inspections of each restaurant to ensure that every location is abiding by health regulations every day and not every so often.

Once the restaurant chain has successfully applied higher standards to prevent future outbreaks, they will also need to plan and execute a powerful marketing campaign that will reassure consumers that they’re back at it and better than ever. Once they’ve rebuilt trust with the public, they may stand a better chance of fully recovering.

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Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.

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