It’s full blown PR crisis mode for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (NYSE:CMG) as the burrito chain deals with its third food safety issue so far this year.
This latest situation is impacting Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington. All of the chain’s 43 stores in or near Seattle and Portland are closed because of the E. coli 026 outbreak.
“Besides being a major food safety issue, this is a public relations crisis for Chipotle,” says Glenn Selig, a crisis PR expert with the national public relations firm The Publicity Agency. “There is no doubt that as a result of this E. coli outbreak consumers will question Chipotle’s food safety standards. The company will need to address that head-on when the eateries re-open.”
In the meantime, while an investigation is underway to determine the cause, Selig says the company must be as transparent and as cooperative as possible.
“The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle in the statement. “We work with a number of very fresh ingredients in order to serve our customers the highest-quality, best-tasting food we can. If there are opportunities to do better, we will push ourselves to find them and enhance our already high standards for food safety.
Selig says at this time, the company needs to be concerned only with the public and not allow any worry about its image to impact how it cooperates or imparts information to the public.
“It should be about safety and protecting the public right now,” says Selig. “Doing anything less at this critical stage could be detrimental to Chipotle,” Selig says.
In September, more than 60 people who ate at Chipotle restaurants got salmonella, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. In August, Simi Valley, Calif. officials linked Chipotle to more than 100 cases of norovirus.
Eight Chipotle restaurants have been linked to the E. coli outbreak. The company says it’s cleaning and sanitizing all restaurants that are closed and replacing all the food inside.
Chipotle has also hired two food safety consulting firms to assess and improve its food safety standards.
While no cause has yet been identified by investigating health officials, Chipotle continues to work with health department officials.
SOURCE: The Publicity Agency
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