Chipotle, which markets itself as a healthy option for Mexican food, has another PR problem on its hands after customers at Sterling, Virginia restaurant became ill. The restaurant was closed after reports of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and severe stomach pain.
One customer’s daughter became “violently sick, puking, diarrhea, severe pain, overnight into Sunday.”
“Friday 7/14 Daughter and friends went to Chipotle,” the customer wrote on iwaspoisoned.com. “Friends ill as well with one friend also in ER.”
“We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible,” Jim Marsden, Chipotle’s executive director of food safety, told Business Insider. “The reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus. Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle.”
This latest public health issue comes at a time where Chipotle is attempting to come-back from a 2015 E. coli outbreak. The company has not recovered from the bad publicity. In February of 2017, Chipotle’s profits were down 76%.
“In the upcoming year, we intend to continue to simplify and improve our restaurant operations, utilize creative marketing to rebuild our brand, and further the roll-out of our digital sales efforts,” said CEO Steve Ells in a statement.
Prior to 2015, Chipotle had built a strong brand that promoted its Mexican food as a healthy alternative to fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell. The food was marketed as fresh and more locally sourced. The company prided itself on sustainable practices.
In 2013, Chipotle released a lengthy animated advertisement called “The Scarecrow” that tugged at heartstrings by showing cows and chickens being abused by a big, evil capitalist food company.
Perhaps because Chipotle’s brand was built so much on having more integrity than other companies, the E. coli outbreak damaged consumer trust more severely.
Rival Taco Bell has had numerous food poisoning outbreaks over the years, including an infamous case of E.coli food poisoning in 1999 that garnered a lot of press because it hit children. Other past epidemics include an E. coli outbreak in the Northeastern United States in 2006 and a multi-state outbreak of salmonella in 2011. In 2010, 155 people fell ill at two states due to salmonella at Taco Bell restaurants.
The problem foods in question have varied, from beef to lettuce and green onions.
Despite strict food regulations, food poisoning in the United States is still a common problem. Healthline recommends that individuals see a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:
- bloody vomit or stools
- diarrhea lasting longer than three days
- extreme abdominal pain
- signs of dehydration (decreased urination, dizziness, palpitations)
- blurry vision
- fever greater than 101.5°F (38.6°C)
Food safety also needs to be practiced at home. Washing hands and keeping utensils clean are two simple steps to improve food hygiene. A separate cutting board for raw meat should be utilized, rather than using the same cutting board for vegetables. Foods need to be properly refrigerated, and vegetables and fruits washed thoroughly.