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Chipotle closes for a day to focus on food safety

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - A Lake Oswego Chipotle was one of 43 restaurants closed in mid-October after an outbreak of  E coli sickened dozens of people in Oregon and Washington. The restaurants will close for part of Feb. 8 so employees can hear a presentation on food safety issues.Chipotle Mexican Grills across the nation will close Monday, Feb. 8, for most of the day so employees can attend a company meeting on food safety and other issues.

Company officials said Tuesday that restaurants will close from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They plan to reopen after the meeting.

Chipotle’s one-day closure comes four months after more than three dozen people were sickened in Oregon and Washington in Oregon and Washington by a Shiga toxin E. coli linked to Chipotle restaurants in the Portland area and several counties in Washington since mid-October. Chipotle took the unusual step of closing 43 restaurants in Seattle and Portland for nearly a month to clean and restock ingredients.

In November, federal health officials said the outbreak had spread, sickening 52 people in nine states. A norovirus that made more than 100 people ill was linked to Chipotles in the Boston area.

Company officials said Chipotles have “been implementing an enhanced food safety plan that will establish Chipotle as an industry leader in food safety.”

“Most of the new protocols are already in place, thanks to the hard work and dedication our excellent restaurant teams,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, chairman and co-chief executive officer. “Additionally, we have implemented unprecedented food safety standards with our suppliers, which make the food coming into our restaurants safer than ever before.”

Chipotle’s Feb. 8 meeting will be broadcast live from Denver to locations across the country.

The company’s enhanced food safety program includes:

• High-resolution DNA-based testing of many ingredients designed to ensure the quality and safety of ingredients before they are shipped to.

• Changes to food prep and food handling practices, including washing and cutting of some produce items (such as tomatoes and romaine lettuce) and shredding cheese in central kitchens, blanching of some produce items (including avocados, onions and limes) in its restaurants, and new protocols for marinating chicken and steak.

• Enhanced internal training to ensure that all employees thoroughly understand the company’s high standards for food safety and food handling.

• Paid sick leave helping to ensure that ill employees have no incentive to work while ill.

Chipotle operates more than 1,900 restaurants across the nation.