So, What Really Happened to Chipotle

Daniel Williams, the drummer from the band, The Devil Wears Prada, tweeted on December 28, 2015.

“I guess chipotle’s solution to the e-coli problem is cooking their meat until it’s a piece of three month old beef jerky. #dissappointed today.”

One of the major reasons people went to Chipotle was because the food was good and good for you. The food came from places that were nearby and far away. Chipotle represented this strange gray area where health-conscious food could be mass produced. Chipotle presented all the same fronts that McDonald’s has for years. After all, the leader of setting international dining expectations is McDonald’s. Half the reason people go to McDonald’s all over the world is because they know what they can expect. The food is basically the same. The colors are mainly the same. The bathrooms are relatively the same. This expectation creates comfort, familiarity, and safety.

Chipotle did the same things as McDonald’s, for years. Chipotle shares have skyrocketed 940% since their IPO in 2006, when McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) started spinning off its 51% stake in the company. Then something happened, however, I am not really sure we know for sure where things went awry. Don’t get it twisted that McDonald’s and Chipotle were a match made in heaven. They were not. They weren’t cultural enemies either. Truthfully, an argument can be made that the years Chipotle spent under McDonald’s were really what helped the burrito maker grow up. McDonald’s curtained simplified Chipotle’s real-estate development and supply chain strategies. Remember when Chipotle first started out with standalone restaurants and now they are almost always in another building. This helped Chipotle to nearly quadruple its restaurant count over the past decade.


Read more about the Chipotle food poisoning outbreaks across the United States.

So what happened? People got sick. Over 300 cases of illness after eating at Chipotle have been reported. The first reports of E. coli sickening Chipotle customers came from October in Washington state and Oregon. The latest being over 140 students at Boston College in Brighton, Massachusetts being diagnosed with norovirus.

Today, we received news that the FEDS are conducting a criminal probe tied to an outbreak of food-borne disease at one of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s restaurants in 2015. This is highly unusual. The FDA rarely looks into this kind of outbreak with criminal charges.

Most folks got the norovirus from Chipotle. norovirus is the most common food-borne virus. I’ve had the norovirus. I had in it 2010. My wife got it too. My little son also got sick. We went to a Red Robin in Wisconsin. We guessed it was under cooked meat. Maybe spinach that wasn’t washed. It was an awful couple of days and I don’t wish it on anybody.

Will we ever find out what really happened at Chipotle? Probably not– this would be hard to track and each outbreak seems to come from a different source. The plausible outcome is that Chipotle may have received food that had E. coli bacteria. E. coli lives in the guts of people and animals. There are many types of E. coli. The type causes symptoms like diarrhea can be spread through contaminated water or food or via contact with animals or people.

When people get sick from E. coli, it’s usually because they get small amounts of human or animal feces in their mouth. There was “doodie” in the food. This happens a lot more often than most folks think. Poop is part of the human experience in all of its forms. And sometimes it is in our foods. Especially, when it is mass produced. This is pretty simple stuff. The quality control tends to decrease as more is produced. It is hard to keep your eyes on everything. Chipotle still needed to check though.

The more and more I write this article I keep thinking of the 2007 movie Fast Food Nation, which was an adapted screenplay from Eric Schlosser’s bestselling book, Fast Food Nation. In the movie, there is a scene that I think might sum up what we have going on with Chipotle and mass food production:

“There’s always been a little sh*t in the meat,” growls beef supplier Harry Rydell (Bruce Willis), chomping down on a hamburger. He says this to an executive named Don Henderson, played by Greg Kinnear. The company is fictional fast food chain Mickey’s. Henderson’s investigating claims that Mickey’s flagship “Big One” burgers contain high levels of fecal matter. Rydell is a smug and candid character, but he’s also like a twisted conscience. Then Rydell licks his lips and says this: “We’ve all gotta eat a little sh*t sometimes.”

Perhaps, this is true. And if the saying “we are what we eat”, is also true. Then this Chipotle outbreak should make us worry.