Morgan Sullivan | Staff Writer
After announcing all Chipotle restaurants would be closing for a portion of the day on Feb. 8, some consumers expressed they would rather risk contracting E. coli than miss out on their burrito bowl.
Similarly, after three deaths from listeria and a nationwide recall of all frozen product, customers lined grocery stores awaiting Blue Bell’s return.
These cult-like followings allowed Chipotle and Blue Bell to bounce back from seemingly catastrophic foodborne outbreaks (aside from a minor stock drop on Chipotle’s part). While consumers tend to be more critical of chains like Taco Bell and McDonald’s for no particular reason, most consumers have little reservations about returning to companies they deem more socially responsible or have an emotional attachment to. And come on, people still eat at Golden Corral?
The probability of contracting E. coli or salmonella was too small to deter most consumers from eating Chipotle, even while investigations were still occurring. It is too easy to push the thought out of your mind and put blind faith into an establishment that values itself on its food quality.
However, consumers should remain critical of their favorite restaurants, even those who boast the “best ingredients.” Sure, out of the hundreds and thousands of customers, only 100 people were affected (in total, after both outbreaks), but the big picture isn’t quite so squeaky clean.
Following the outbreaks, Chipotle outlined their new safety procedures, which entailed three main ideas:
1. DNA-based testing of ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants.
2. Changes to food prep and handling, including washing/cutting of produce, shredding cheese in central kitchens, blanching some produce items and new protocols for marinating chicken and steak.
3. Paid sick leave.
After reading these procedures, the question on the forefront is cleanliness. Since the restaurant could not determine the cause of the E. coli outbreak, consumers are left to believe that workers overlooked simple food preparation procedures.
E. coli can be spread by employees not washing their hands, unwashed produce and undercooked meat. Two of the three causes are extremely easy to avoid. If this outbreak could have been so easily prevented, perhaps there is more the chain could do to ensure their food is safe to eat.
In the lifespan of a franchise, crises are bound to happen, and consumers jump to place the blame or rationalize the behavior of their favorite brands. It is understood that an individual can contract salmonella and E. coli while preparing food at home, but when contracting the service of a food chain, a level of responsibility should be expected.
The seeming double standard of second chances being granted to some brands over others sends a message: as long as restaurants are quick to act and promise to be better, consumers return with little to no doubts.
We should hold places like Chipotle and Blue Bell accountable. We shouldn’t be so swift to welcome them back into our hearts and our stomachs. If we continue to say, “You tried, and that’s enough” to brands simply because they aren’t McDonald’s, it sets an unsettling precedent.
Perhaps all they need is a little tough love. Yes, we know that guacamole costs extra. So should giving your customers E. coli.