Chipotle Mexican Grill agreed Tuesday to pay a record $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges that it served tainted food that sickened more than 1,100 people in the US in outbreaks from 2015 to 2018 and sent sales plunging. The fast food company was charged in Los Angeles federal court with two counts of violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by serving adulterated food that caused four outbreaks of norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps, and a food poisoning incident. The company admitted that poor safety practices, such as not keeping food at proper temperatures to prevent pathogen growth, sickened customers in Los Angeles and nearby Simi Valley, as well as Boston; Sterling, Va.; and Powell, Ohio, the AP reports.
The string of outbreaks, which began in August 2015 in Simi Valley, came about two months before an E. coli outbreak at Chipotle spread to multiple states that temporarily closed dozens of restaurants and hurt sales as other food scares emerged. The criminal case was not related to E. coli. An investigation by the Food and Drug Administration found numerous incidents at Chipotle restaurants where employees vomited at work, but didn’t go home in violation of the company’s policies, according to court documents. Some former employees said they felt pressured to work when they were sick. The company, based in Newport Beach, Calif., entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that will allow it to avoid conviction by continuing to improve its food safety program, following other rules, and paying the record-setting fine for a food safety case, federal prosecutors said. (Chipotle also recently had to pay a big fine for child labor violations.)