February 13, 2018

Learn From Chipotle’s Mistakes: Proactive Food Safety for QSRs

Written by SmartSense

When Chipotle opened its first restaurant in Denver almost 25 years ago, it set the standard for the modern Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) model. But what really distinguished the chain was its innovative mission, “Food With Integrity,” that tapped into the rising consumer demand for healthy, fresh, locally sourced food. Chipotle, in fact, became the “poster boy” for successful entrepreneurship. Who could have predicted that the company would currently be facing more than two years of disastrous public relations, internal strife, and business loss?

Chipotle’s misfortune has been so severe that the chain now stands as the classic case study for how QSRs must deal proactively with the potential for foodborne illness before suffering adverse consequences. The recent series of outbreaks has raised important issues about the QSR model—in particular, the security of supply chains, the adequate training of its staff, and its overall food safety culture.

Chipotle’s Recent History of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Chipotle just can’t seem to stem the tide of outbreaks beginning in 2016. Since then, they’ve made headlines for

  • Summer 2016: norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, California (hundreds of customers affected)
  • Fall 2016: norovirus outbreak in Boston location
  • Fall 2016: salmonella outbreak at 17 stores in Minnesota (50 customers affected)
  • Fall 2016: E. coli outbreak at 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon; by late January 2017, the outbreak stretched across 11 states
  • July 2017: norovirus outbreak at a restaurant in Sterling, Virginia

In all, nearly 500 Chipotle customers were sickened after eating at various Chipotles stores according to Business Insider.

The Negative Impact of Foodborne Illness

Chipotle has had to spend vast amounts time, money, and resources simply dealing with crisis management. With each new incident:

  • Sales plummet for the short term as the company attempts to put a plan in place to resolves the current problem.
  • Stock values not only drop precipitously, but then struggle to return to previous levels.
  • Public fears are renewed and confirmed that Chipotle is an unsafe dining destination.

The crisis is hardly over. Not only was there talk about replacing founder and CEO Steve Ellis at the end of 2017, but Business Insider reported that the rate of self-reported foodborne illness at the chain has been reported at nine times higher than 10 of its US competitors.

Chipotle has been scrambling to rectify its safety gaps and its tarnished reputation. You can review the company website for a summary of Chipotle’s safety efforts. Even with these new methods and checks implemented, experts have predicted that the company will probably see yet another outbreak in the next 12 months—most likely because, with human beings involved, no food safety plan is perfect.

Chipotle’s example is all the more reason that systems for monitoring and cross-checking should be secured by technologies that can provide 24/7 insight and data reporting.

What QSRs Can Learn from Chipotle

What it really comes down to is simply this: Any QSR with the mission to serve fresh food without preservatives must be especially careful about food shipping, storage, and handling—or run similar risks that have damaged Chipotle’s business model. Any brand’s food service that relies heavily on fresh produce must be extremely cautious of inherent risks, because pathogens aren’t destroyed during a cooking process.

As a QSR chain grows, more of its food preparation operations become centralized, requiring that pre-processed ingredients be prepared outside of each store and shipped. Once the supply chain is expanded to multiple touch points, the potential for contamination intensifies, as foods are more likely to suffer temperature excursions outside of the safety range. With an increase of the number of fallible employees handling perishable foods, a reliable technological system becomes imperative.

The Smart Food Storage Solution

Digi Smart Solutions’ digital, remote, continuous temperature monitoring system for QSRs can significantly improve and secure proper storage, delivery, and handling temperatures essential for preventing foodborne illness. Our proactive approach is precisely what successful chain restaurants must implement to avoid the fate of Chipotle.

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Topics: Food Safety

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