Chipotle Mexican Grill is contemplating stepping back from some food-safety changes it had pushed for a month ago after a series of disease outbreaks, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Chipotle, which had said last month it was conducting high-resolution DNA-based testing of many ingredients, is now thinking of dialing back or eliminating pathogen testing on some ingredients, the Journal said.
The company now gets its beef cooked before it reaches some restaurants in vacuum-sealed bags, after which it is marinated and heated on a grill before being served, the Journal said. That approach is notably at odds with Chipotle’s reputation for fresh and made-from-scratch food.
Chipotle (CMG) food scares included two E.coli outbreaks linked to its restaurants, as well as separate outbreaks of norovirus, a highly contagious virus known as the “winter vomiting bug,” in Massachusetts and California.
Pre-cooking the beef will kill E.Coli if another contamination occurs. Chipotle previously said that it was ensuring food safety with high-resolution testing.
When asked to comment on the Journal report, Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold said in statement that the restaurant remains committed to establishing itself as a leader in food safety. “Over the last few months, we have implemented a number of programs and procedures to enhance food safety—including prep of some ingredients in central kitchens, high resolution testing of ingredients, and procedural changes in our restaurants. Any changes we may make to our initial plans will be to strengthen what we are doing.”
The Denver-based burrito chain cited its DNA-based testing on Tuesday when it announced February sales. It reported that sales at established restaurants fell 26.1% last month—more than the 22% decline that Wall Street analysts were expecting, according to Consensus Metrix. It said it expects a loss of $1 per share this quarter because it’s spending a lot more money on additional safety protocols and throwing out more food as a result of more rigorous DNA testing. Plus, it warned investors that it will have to spend money on a federal probe into its food safety practices.
“We continue to expect that our margins and earnings potential will fully recover,” the company said in a regulatory filing.
This story has been updated to reflect comments from Chipotle.