Is Chipotle a riskier place to eat? Hard to know

Sat Feb 6, 2016 7:12am EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - In recent months, Chipotle has lost customers, sales and profits after outbreaks of foodborne illnesses that sickened more than 500 people from Seattle to Boston.

The burrito chain will shut its 1,900 U.S. restaurants on Monday for a meeting with employees to review a rapid overhaul of practices that it hopes will eliminate outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and norovirus.

But there is no easy way to know whether the fast food chain's safety record is any better or worse than that of other major restaurant chain.

Food safety investigations in the United States begin - and often end - at the local level, and some states limit the disclosure of implicated restaurants, keeping diners in the dark.

Federal public health investigators get involved only when multi-state outbreaks are identified. A publicly available national database identifies tainted foods and pathogen culprits, but it would not help a consumer who wants to know whether one restaurant chain has a better safety record than another.

"There is not a surveillance system that exists nationally that answers that question," said Matthew Wise, who leads the team investigating multi-state outbreaks at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Roughly 48 million people, one in six U.S. residents, are sickened by tainted food each year and nearly 3,000 die.

Food safety advocates say more information would help. The development of a national database of safety scores broken out by chain could motivate restaurants to improve and maintain high standards, said Darin Detwiler, senior policy coordinator for STOP Foodborne Illness.     Continued...

A logo of Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen on a store entrance in Manhattan, New York November 23, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly