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The Associated Press reports that Chipotle founder/CEO Steve Ells yesterday made an appearance at one of the company's Seattle restaurants to talk about the company's new food safety procedures, saying that "it is impossible to ensure that there is a zero percent chance of any kind of foodborne illness anytime anyone eats anywhere," and suggesting that "they will never know for sure which item actually sickened more than 50 people who ate at their restaurants."

However, Ells also said that "in addition to more testing along the supply chain, Chipotle is instituting more high-tech food tracking inside its restaurants and some new procedures, including cutting, washing and testing tomatoes at central commissaries to ensure they are as clean as possible.

"Ells said the company's approach to food safety is similar to its focus on food quality and none of the new procedures are impossible or very difficult to follow. It's easier at some other chains to meet the highest food safety standards because everything is cooked, processed or frozen, which Ells said is not the Chipotle way."

While the new procedures will cost more money, Ells said that neither customers nor suppliers will have to bear the cost, at least at the beginning; the company has told analysts that any price increases related to food safety costs won;t come before 2017.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning, by the way, that "Chipotle expects to lower its use of locally sourced ingredients and is centralizing the preparation of some vegetables as it seeks to shore up food safety following an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people in nine states and a norovirus episode in Boston. The burrito chain hopes the steps can help it regain consumers who have shunned its outlets, eroding sales.

Health officials haven’t been able to identify the source of the E. coli outbreak but say produce was the probable cause."

Ells, the Journal writes, recently "described the chain’s new practice of dicing, sanitizing and hermetically sealing tomatoes, cilantro and lettuce in a central kitchen where they are tested for microbes and then shipped to restaurants. Mr. Ells said the extra steps don’t change the quality of the ingredients and that whole avocados and jalapeños will continue to be brought into the restaurants. The new techniques minimize the number of people and surfaces coming into contact with the ingredients."
KC's View:
I suspect that at some point Chipotle will face a Wall Street / MainStreet moment of decision, and it'll come before 2017. Sales and profits will be down, because of the damage to its reputation and the higher costs, and management will be under pressure from the investor class to raise prices.

Let's see what happens. I'd like to think that Chipotle will stand fast, but the dark side of the Force is strong with the investor class, and resistance may be futile. (Boom! Star Wars and Star Trek references in one sentence!)