Chipotle Mexican Grill agrees to $25 million fine to settle federal criminal charges over tainted food – USA TODAY

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USA TODAY

Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to a record $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges over tainted food that sickened more than 1,100 people in the U.S., federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The Newport Beach, California company faced charges in Los Angeles federal court for outbreaks that occurred from 2015 to 2018. As part of a three-year deferred prosecution agreement, Chipotle has agreed to institute a more rigorous program to keep food safer.

“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customers real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said in an emailed statement. 

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Kerry Bridges, Chipotle’s vice president of food safety, said the company has improved food handling practices to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses over the last four years.

“These measures include reducing the number of employees who come into contact with ingredients, safeguards to minimize the risk that an ingredient is undercooked, and sophisticated microbiological testing of raw ingredients to help ensure quality and safety before they are shipped to restaurants,” Bridges said. 

The fine is the largest ever in a food safety case, federal prosecutors said.

“Chipotle failed to ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna for the Central District of California said in a statement. “Today’s steep penalty, coupled with the tens of millions of dollars Chipotle already has spent to upgrade its food safety program since 2015, should result in greater protections for Chipotle customers and remind others in the industry to review and improve their own health and safety practices.”

The charges stem in part to outbreaks of norovirus, which can easily be transmitted by food workers. Norovirus can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. 

Chipotle had been implicated in at least five foodborne illness outbreaks between 2015 and 2018 in restaurants in the Los Angeles area, Boston, Virginia and Ohio when store employees failed to follow safety protocols, prosecutors said.

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