Is Chipotle safe to eat?: UB students discuss whether or not they still eat Chipotle after E. coli breakout
Chipotle and Moe’s are the most popular places Buffaloians go to for a quick sit-down Mexican meal, apart from the fast-food options, Mighty Taco and Taco Bell. But after a recent E. coli breakout in Chipotle locations across the nation, many are skeptical as to whether or not it’s still safe to eat at the chain restaurant.
The breakout started in November of 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill reportedly closed 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon in response to the initial outbreak. The foodborne illness did not stay contained in the west coast, it spread all across the United States throughout the early months of 2016.
In December 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported five people from three states were infected with a rare strain of STEC O26: Kansas (1), North Dakota (1), and Oklahoma (3).
According to a report by the CDC, as of Jan. 27, 2016, 55 people were infected with a different more common outbreak strain of STEC (Shiga toxin producing E. coli) O26 from a total of 11 states in the larger outbreak, including New York.
Of those 55 people, 21 were hospitalized. Most of the infected customers visited restaurants on the west coast.
As of Feb. 1, the CDC announced that the outbreak appeared to be over. Even though the outbreak was eventually contained, many customers were skeptical about returning to the restaurant with fears that they may contract the disease.
Michelle Hoover is the General Manager of a local Chipotle on Niagara Falls Boulevard. and she said the aftermath has really affected restaurant’s day-to-day operations.
“Before the breakout my restaurant would make upwards of $10,000 each day,” she said. “But after the breakout sales dropped over 50 percent and there was a huge slow down. We had to change a lot of things but we’re back up to our regular sales per day.”
Every Chiptole across the nation had to undergo major changes and training to ensure customers that their food is safe to eat and that no one should be scared to eat their food.
“We’ve completely changed our standards, we all wash our hands every 30 minutes and we check the temperatures of all of our food every hour,” she said. “We taught all our employees how to spot raw food and what cooked meat should look like. I don’t know any other restaurant that’s required to regulate their food like that, it makes me happy and proud to work for such an amazing company that takes such pride in providing such high-quality food.”
To get customers back in their restaurants, Chipotle mailed thousands of coupons and promotions out to previous customers, which is something the company rarely does. Chipotle really made a push, basically giving away food to ensure customers that it’s the same tasty food as before the epidemic, and that their food can be trusted.
Hoover said that the company is trying very hard to gain the trust of their customers back. Before the epidemic, Chipotle’s reputation was the strongest part of their marketing campaigns.
“People would tell their friends about Chipotle and they’d come and eat and really enjoy it, then go tell their friends,” Hoover said. “After people were a little skeptical about returning to eat these promotions helped bring customers back into the stores and made them remember how awesome our food is.”
After the recent events with Chipotle’s food, many students say that they weren’t bothered by the outbreak.
Quinn Hurley, a junior biology major says that he still loves to eat at the restaurant.
“I really don’t care about the outbreak, everything seems to be fine now.” he said. “I really like Chipotle but I go to Moe’s more often, just because it’s so convenient, being located in the Student Union.”
Every student The Spectrum talked to said they still enjoy eating Chipotle’s food. Jimmy Wu, a junior chemical engineering major, is one of them.
“The outbreak didn’t happen around here, so it didn’t really bother me.” Wu said. “I really like Chipotle because of their selection. Their sweet corn is really tasty, and they give you a really big portion. Even though Moe’s is right here, I’ll drive over to Chipotle, I just like it better.”
Despite their recent breakout attracting attention from national news sources, everything seems to be moving smoothly at Chipotle again. Most people have either forgotten about what happened or they just don’t care.
Max Kalnitz is an assistant arts writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org