Chipotle to Close Stores on February 8 for Food Safety Meeting

Jan 18, 2016 10:16 PM EST | By Beverly Abad

After performing Step 1 of their turnaround game plan (which was to give away free food), Chipotle is ready to take the next step.

The food chain is closing down all of their stores on February 8 to hold a national staff meeting on food safety. The company's 1,900 restaurants are expected to take part of the said meeting.

"We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing, and answer questions from employees," Chipotle spokesperson told ThinkProgress in an email.

Once a stock market favorite, Chipotle's stock was at a high of about $750 per share. After the almost year-long health scares, it plummeted to as low as $428 a share - a 42% drop. 

The problem began last August after a score of customers in Minnesota were infected with Salmonella and about 100 people were struck by norovirus in Southern California. It continued with an E. coli outbreak in October and November that affected 53 people in nine different states. Last December, the chain encountered two more outbreaks, affecting 140 students at a Boston college with norovirus, plus another E. coli incidence downing five more people in three states.

"E. Coli is a gut bacteria that lives in mammals' intestines, and food borne infections are usually linked back to an animal source, either domestic or wild, but has also been traced to humans. To cause illness, the bacteria contaminates the food - meat, dairy, or produce - but isn't inactivated through cooking," said Robert Buchanan, a University of Maryland, College Park professor and director of the college's Center for Food Safety and Security Systems. 

In an attempt to win back regular customers, Chipotle has doubled the amount of free food that each location can give away to its clientele.

The embattled company's CEO Steve Ells made a statement earlier this week, saying that he was "hopeful" the Centers for Disease Control would soon declare that the outbreaks were over. "We know that Chipotle is as safe as it's ever been before," he said on Jan. 13 at a meeting in Orlando.

Chipotle has not yet elaborated on what food safety techniques will be implemented or stressed.

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