UNITED STATES—The United States District Attorney’s Office, announced that on Tuesday, April 21, that Chipotle Mexican Grill was charged with two counts of violating the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the Cosmetic Act by contaminating food products while being contained for sale, after it has been shipped in interstate commerce.
The company has agreed to pay $25 million in fines because of problems caused by foodborne illness from 2015 through 2018. The fine is the largest ever issued in a food safety case.
The restaurant chain neglected to follow safety rules and faced criminal charges connected to outbreaks of a norovirus outbreak in its restaurants. The deadly pathogen causes symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Over 1,100 people became ill because of the contaminated food.
“Chipotle failed to ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols, resulting in hundreds of customers across the country getting sick,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Today’s steep penalty, coupled with the tens of millions of dollars Chipotle already has spent to upgrade its food safety program since 2015, should result in greater protections for Chipotle customers and remind others in the industry to review and improve their own health and safety practices.”
Listed in the deferred prosecution agreement, Chipotle admitted that five known food safety occurrences happened at different restaurants in the U.S. between 2015 and 2018, including restaurants in Simi Valley, as well as Los Angeles. Chipotle indicated the problems occurred from a limited number of staff members who did not follow food safety policies.
The restaurant agreed to start a comprehensive food safety compliance program. If Chipotle commits to the agreement, the government may dismiss the criminal charges.
In response, the company noted measures have been introduced to follow food safety resources, which include prevention systems and microbiological testing as well as control and monitor food safety hazards to food ingredients that are shipped to restaurants.
“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customer’s real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence,” said Brian Niccol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill in a statement.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.