Friend Or Foe for Consumers: Chipotle Food Safety Management

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Table of Contents

  • From Crisis to Commitment: Chipotle's Path to Food Safety Enhancement
  • Conclusion
  • References

In a world marked by evolving food trends and consumer preferences, the fast-food industry plays a significant role in shaping our dining habits. Chipotle, a prominent player in this realm, has garnered attention for its commitment to providing 'food with integrity.' However, as with any complex issue, the evaluation of Chipotle impact goes beyond its marketing promises. This essay delves whether this Maxican Grill store is friend or foe for customers. Chipotle is famous for their successful crisis management strategies ever implemented. It was during 2015 E Coli outbreak. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the differences between crisis management strategies, and it is important because these types of outbreaks will continue to happen, making it valuable to know how to handle them efficiently.

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Chipotle Mexican Grill opened their first store in 1993, and since then have grown to become one of the most successful restaurants on the planet. Today Chipotle has over 2,000 different locations across the United States and Europe. Chipotle made their Initial Public Offering in 2006, and today their stock is traded for around $750. This massive success has not been easy, Chipotle has faced many challenges to get to where they are today. Of course, nothing threatened the company like the infamous E-Coli outbreak in late 2015. Food contamination and disease outbreaks have historically had disastrous effects on the economic success of the businesses associated, and in some instances have even forced businesses to close down completely. However, Chipotle did not close down, and in fact is even more successful today than they were before the outbreak. This was not in any way random or luck, but instead is attributed to the excellent crisis management strategy that Chipotle took during the 2015 outbreak. Chipotle’s crisis management strategy is a major reason why the company is so successful today despite a major food contamination. Rapid response, transparency, trust, and incentives are all major parts of Chipotle’s crisis management, a strategy that today is acclaimed as one of the most successful crisis management responses of all time.


From Crisis to Commitment: Chipotle's Path to Food Safety Enhancement

When reports of a possible E Coli outbreak were first published in 2015, the first thing that Chipotle did was temporarily closed 43 restaurants in the outbreak region. This gave the upper level management time to figure out how they were going to handle this problem. Within a week of the outbreak first being reported, Chipotle publicly committed themselves to becoming a leader in food safely moving forward. Management decided that their best option was to publicly apologize, and be transparent in the new steps they would be taking to ensure food safely would be a new top priority. Chipotle’s management claimed that their new food safely procedures following the outbreak would be among the most rigorous in the industry.

Unfortunately for Chipotle, on November 20, 2015, more cases of E Coli outbreaks were reported. This was only a few weeks after Chipotle first announced that they would be overhauling food safety standards. Between the months of October and December of 2015, 60 cases of E Coli were reported in 14 different states. The outbreak was quickly picked up by mainstream media outlets, and it quickly became national news. Upper level management knew that they would need to develop a crisis management strategy to effectively handle the food outbreak. Eventually the plan that management came up with was to accept responsibility, publicly apologize, be transparent about new procedures, and divert money to new promotions aimed at retaining customers. Wall Street, who had lots of money on the line, was very critical about this approach. During 2015, many people thought that Chipotle was foolish for accepting responsibility as opposed to finding a scapegoat. However Chipotle management stuck to their strategy, and it proved to pay off.

On December 10th, Chipotle had founder and CEO Steve Ellis go on the Today Show and publicly apologize on behalf of the company. This move represented management’s strategy of transparency and commitment. Steve Ellis attempted to spin the saying, “Chipotle was embracing this as an opportunity” for increasing food safety standards across the industry. Overall, this live public apology on the Today Show was successful, and the stock price of Chipotle jumped 5% in the day after the event. People responded well to the apology, and the commitment the better standards seemed to be sincere. In the weeks following, Chipotle continued to be transparent in several press conferences, and responded to all press inquiries. They proved that they would not let profits get in the way of their commitment to food safety.


Of course, many people were skeptical of Chipotles sincerity. After all, they had just let a national food outbreak occur under their watch. Fortunately, Chipotle’s crisis management strategy had a plan to address this. Management wanted to implement a way to reward loyal customers for supporting them through this time. Management reallocated a large amount of funds towards promotions and incentive programs. Chipotle spent additional funds to advertise these loyalty programs, both on social media and paid advertising. CEO Steve Ells continued to be the spokesperson throughout the crisis, and (due to his higher status) mainstream media was quick to publish any statements he made. This positive media coverage had a huge impact and helped Chipotle recover from this disaster. Chipotle continued to spend money on promotions and advertising, and many investors questioned this decision when they saw they expenses. However, as we can see today, these decisions may have saved the company, and eventually brand loyalty would return to the levels they were at before the outbreak occurred.  


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  4. Reiley, L., & Vlachos, A. (2019). From health halo to health hazard: The case of Chipotle Mexican Grill. Economic Inquiry, 57(3), 1445-1461.

  5. Sellers, P. (2016). How Chipotle is making a comeback after a food-safety crisis. Fortune. Retrieved from

  6. Thompson, P. B., & Czaja, K. (2015). Making sense of American food. A story of culture and agriculture. University of Nebraska Press.

  7. Velasco, S. (2020). Competing for customers in the fast food industry: A case of Chipotle Mexican Grill. In Strategies and Tactics in Organic Synthesis (pp. 159-173). Academic Press.

  8. Weise, E. (2017). To fix its food, Chipotle is going back to the start. USA Today. Retrieved from

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