Chipotle, that purveyor of piglet-sized burritos and other tasty Mexican delights, is on the long road back to respectability after a punishing series of food-borne illness outbreaks that might have crushed a company with a less fanatical customer base.
In a national mea culpa, the chain closed its 1,971 stores across the country earlier this week for an hourslong meeting with employees to review restaurant practices. The company also announced that it would spend up to $10 million to improve safety standards and educate workers. That was a smart move. Being transparent about new food safety measures, even down to blanching herbs and lemons, is even smarter. A company whose slogan was “Food with Integrity” could hardly afford to do less.
So far, Chipotle’s customers appear eager to forgive and forget (text coupons for a free burrito bowl didn’t hurt). Lines this week at a downtown Minneapolis Chipotle resembled those at a Disney theme park ride during high summer.
But before consumers wipe this incident from their collective minds, let’s pause and recall how many others it comes on top of nationwide, including outbreaks triggered by fresh spinach and tomatoes, bagged lettuce, soft cheeses, cilantro and radishes. The last week alone has seen recalls across the country of organic macadamia nuts that may carry salmonella, beef products with “extraneous materials” and ice cream found to also contain wood chips.
This nation has an abundance of food and food choices. But it has starved its regulatory and inspection arm. Kudos to companies that take upon themselves rigorous practices to keep their customers safe.
U.S. consumers should have more protection, though. The Food and Drug Administration is seeking $5 billion in the fiscal 2017 budget — an 8 percent increase over the previous year. The money would go to enforceable safety standards for produce, safety audits of foreign food facilities and efforts to hold importers accountable for meeting U.S. safety standards — which is critical in an era of globalized food supplies. Ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply is too vital a task to leave to any one company or consumer.