Environment and animal rights groups have praised Chipotle for its sustainable and humane practices, but its recent food poisoning outbreaks illustrate the challenges that can come with living up to this image.
Branded with the tagline “food with integrity,” Chipotle has led the movement among fast-food chains in acquiring produce from local farmers, seeking meat producers who carry out humane animal practices, and reducing its environmental impact. It has used terms like “sustainable,” “added hormone-free,” “organic,” “naturally raised” and “unprocessed” in its marketing materials.
But food safety experts say these campaign have shifted the company’s focus away from microbial safety, and that these very choices contribute to making it more difficult to guarantee the food won’t become infected with germs that can make customers sick with diarrhea and vomiting for days.
“If you want to make products fresh, that means you’re not going to use a preservative or it’s going to be unprocessed,” says Jayson Lusk, president-elect for the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, who has been critical of Chipotle’s marketing practices. “It does provide a real tradeoff in terms of providing a safe product for the consumer.”