Chipotle Outbreaks Raise Questions for Malibu Location

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One of Malibu’s most affordable places to eat, Chipotle has recently come under the microscope. 

Hundreds of people have been sickened in nine states after eating at the popular burrito chain.  An outbreak of norovirus, a sometimes debilitating stomach bug, traced to a Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley last August sickened more than 100 people and another norovirus outbreak sickened more than 120 Boston College students last month. Finally, an E. coli outbreak sickened 50 people, mostly located in the Pacific Northwest, last fall. 

The Chipotle chain has been sued for allegedly misleading investors about its food safety controls and also faces a criminal investigation by the United States Department of Justice.

Norovirus is a virus that causes intestinal distress and, according to Dr. Roshan Reporter, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, it passes very easily from person to person and can originate with a sick employee who handles food. 

E. coli is a family of bacteria found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some types of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and even pneumonia. Tracing the source of an E. coli outbreak is difficult since the contamination can come from so many sources.

The Malibu Chipotle had only one isolated complaint in 2015, according to Reporter, who was speaking on behalf of the department — despite the fact that food-borne illnesses are more likely to be reported when outbreaks are in the news.

She noted that last year in Los Angeles County there were no outbreaks at the Chipotle chain. The Malibu location currently has an “A” rating from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

“[An ‘A’ rating] only means that a restaurant received the grade because of the food safety handling and cleanliness on the particular day the restaurant was inspected,” Reporter cautioned. She added that as consumers, “we have to trust” those handling our food. She said the L.A. Department of Public Health takes every reported case of illness “very seriously” and that every reported problem is investigated. 

Reporter added that practicing food safety at home is also important, such as washing cutting boards used for meat prior to cutting vegetables.

The Malibu Times checked with local manager George Valdez, who declined to comment; another employee at the location said sales were down this month but suggested this was because Pepperdine students who make up a large group of its customers were away on winter break.

The company’s CEO, Steve Ells, has publicly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry for the people who got sick.” In a recent ad taken out in major publications, Ells stated that the company is instituting tough new guidelines to ensure food-borne illness breakouts are a thing of the past. “The procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat,” he pledged.

Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle, told The Malibu Times in an email that none of the issues have been connected to the Malibu location. He provided a link to a list of changes Chipotle has made in response to food safety issues, which includes examining operations from the farms, the produce ingredients, to the partners that deliver them to restaurants, to cooking techniques used by restaurant crews.

According to the Chipotle website, the chain has partnered with Seattle-based IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, “a preeminent food safety testing and consulting company,” which will work directly with Chipotle’s supply chain and operations departments to implement changes to previous protocols.

For more information on the changes at Chipotle, visit chipotle.com/food-safety. Consumers can report cases of food poisoning by calling The Communicable Disease Reporting Hotline at 888.397.3993.