Crisis at Chipotle: when food integrity is valued over food safety

The whole “food integrity” movement is great. We are what we eat, and consumers should demand foods that are fresh, natural, and without harmful applicants or additives. Companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods  are dear to the hearts of millions of customers because of their “food integrity” message.

But in the recent food contamination outbreak from Chipotle restaurants, it’s becoming clear that its “food integrity” message has suffered because of lapse in food safety protocols.

From Bloomberg:

Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from Chipotle food since July, according to public-health officials. And those are just the ones who went to a doctor, gave a stool sample, and were properly diagnosed. Food-safety experts say they believe with any outbreak the total number of people affected is at least 10 times the reported number. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from contaminated food every year.

As much as Chipotle wants to resolve this crisis and cooperate in the investigation, the company doesn’t have a system granular enough to trace ingredients from suppliers:

The CDC says Chipotle has been very cooperative in the E. coli investigation, but that the company is having trouble telling the agency which batches of ingredients went to which stores at which times. “The system they have is not able to solve the problem we have at hand. It’s not granular enough,” says Ian Williams, chief of the CDC’s outbreak response and prevention branch. He notes that “traceability from the farm to the point of service” should be improved throughout the food industry. In recent years, the agency has been able to find the contaminated ingredients in fewer than half of all multistate outbreaks. Without a conclusion to the investigation, some customers’ unease about returning to Chipotle could be prolonged. Ells prefers to see the uncertainty as another opportunity. “The silver lining is that it has forced us—not forced us, caused us—to take a rigorous look at every ingredient.” Couldn’t Chipotle have done that anyway? “Yes, that’s true.”

Food integrity means nothing when you’re health is compromised.


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