retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Chipotle, which has begun centralizing some of its meat preparation as well as doing DNA testing of many ingredients as it looks to avoid the food safety issues that recently has plagued its operations, may dial back some of these new operations.

According to the story, Chipotle is considering "dialing back or eliminating pathogen testing on some ingredients," believing that the pre-cooking of beef before it is shipped to restaurants in vacuum-sealed bags (where it is then "marinated and heated on a grill") makes the testing redundant.

Chipotle did not comment on the report.

The Journal goes on to say that "the use of fresh ingredients has been a point of differentiation for Chipotle, which has been competing with a cadre of new entrants in the fast-casual space, as well as with fast-food chains that are increasingly turning to fresh ingredients. Chipotle, which had prided itself on its from-scratch cooking techniques, now risks turning off some customers."

In related news, the Journal reports that "Chipotle on Tuesday tapped meat industry expert James Marsden to be its new executive director of food safety. Mr. Marsden, a former Kansas State University meat-science professor, will oversee food safety across the 2,000-unit chain."
KC's View:
One of the most interesting things in the Journal story is a passage noting that while federal regulators have not definitively said what caused the contamination problems that hit a number of restaurants, Chipotle believes that "the source of the E. coli was beef imported from Australia, which it believed spread to other ingredients through cross-contamination." I think that many Chipotle customers might be surprised that in this case, "local sourcing" apparently means from somewhere on Earth.

I can understand that on some level, Chipotle wants to avoid redundancies ... but I also think that at this moment, better safe than sorry. If I were Chipotle, I'd be worried that redundant might not actually be enough.