Chipotle Can't Escape Memories of E.coli Outbreak

August 1, 2018

By Amanda Weston

Chipotle faces the difficult if familiar challenge of regaining customers' trust after fears of possibly contaminated food served at an Ohio restaurant recalled the fast-food chain's 2015 E. coli crisis.

"It's about the image," said Nathan Bomey, a business reporter for USA Today. "It's about what this looks like on social media, and that's what Chipotle has got to be concerned about."

The restaurant in central Ohio closed temporarily on Monday after customers reported feeling ill after dining there. The restaurant chain's stock fell 7 percent the next day, according to USA Today. A Chipotle spokesperson said the issue was an isolated incident and the restaurant was closed out of caution.

But Bomey said the negative headlines could further damage Chipotle's reputation with investors. The fear of contaminated food can quickly spread to customers at other locations, even if there are no issues elsewhere. As of Wednesday morning, more than 200 posts on an online message board included reports that customers felt sick after eating at the Ohio Chipotle location in the past week.

"It does feel like if you're Chipotle you've got to be a little bit frustrated," Bomey said in an interview Wednesday with Cheddar. "As long as it ends up being isolated, it's tough for them I think because we're all on heightened alert here for this type of thing with Chipotle. But I also think they're being held to a higher standard for a good reason."

More than 50 people were infected with a strain of E.Coli (https://www.fda.gov/food/recallsoutbreaksemergencies/outbreaks/ucm470410.htm) in 2015, prompting Chipotle to close 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon after the initial outbreak. No specific ingredient was found to be responsible.

That incident makes it even more difficult for Chipotle to recover from this smaller scare, said Bomey, who added that the company's stock is still below where it was before the 2015 outbreak.

Chipotle isn't the only company facing fears of contaminated food. Some salads and wraps sold at Trader Joe's, Kroger, and Walgreens have been recalled over fears of parasite contamination.

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