After an E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 50 people, Chipotle is tweaking its cooking methods. Onions will be dipped in boiling water to kill germs before they're chopped. Raw chicken will be marinated in resealable plastic bags, rather than in bowls. Cilantro will be added to freshly cooked rice so the heat gets rid of microbes in the garnish. "When you're given a project like this, you look at the universe of hazards," says the CEO of a company hired by Chipotle to tighten its procedures after outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus. The CDC hasn't identified what triggered the E. coli cases, and Chipotle execs say they may never be able to pinpoint what made people sick. In the meantime, the company can't afford to wait and figure out what went wrong.
A Chipotle rep says many changes will be implemented in coming weeks but that the company doesn't expect the taste of its food to suffer. Among others tweaks: Cheese will now arrive in restaurants shredded; ingredients like onions will be macerated with lemon or lime juice to kill germs; tomatoes, cilantro, and other ingredients will be chopped in centralized locations so they can be tested; and 60 samples of every 2,000 pounds of steak will be tested before it's sent to stores. A similar testing program will be implemented for chicken. Pork and barbacoa beef are already delivered cooked in sealed bags. Still, the road for Chipotle to recover its image may be long. An analyst says social media has increased people's awareness of foodborne illnesses, while Chipotle's "Food With Integrity" slogan makes the E. coli cases all the more damaging. (There was more bad news Tuesday for Chipotle.)