Food safety is part of our culture at Chipotle. Our Food Safety team, under the direction of our officers, is responsible for managing food safety in our restaurants. In addition to our internal Food Safety team, we have a Food Safety Advisory Council that is comprised of some of the nation’s foremost food safety authorities. The Food Safety Advisory Council and our Board of Directors oversee our food safety policies and practices to help ensure they’re appropriately designed and implemented.
We take seriously the safety of our food throughout our supply chain and restaurants. Adhering to food safety and quality standards to prevent health risks that can arise from the handling, preparation, and storage of food is a priority we take very seriously in every aspect of our business from our supply chain to our restaurants.
It’s important to distinguish between different types of food safety risks so we can manage and mitigate their impact. All of our restaurants operate under a U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, by which we identify food safety risks in the system and implement corrective actions when needed. The potential for contamination of food through employee illness is our most critical control point. Our sick leave policy, in which restaurant employees are automatically given three days of sick leave from their first day of employment, is designed to reduce this risk. Crew members are also given a Wellness Check at the beginning of each shift to ensure no sick employee is working.
Visual reminders also make a difference when it comes to food safety in our restaurants. Every Chipotle restaurant now has a 3’x2’ poster posted in the kitchen that lists the “Top 7 Food Safety Things To Remember.” These include: work healthy, work clean, keep produce safe, re-heat and cook food to correct temperatures, hold hot and cold foods at specified temperatures, maintain sanitary conditions, and call for help when needed.
We work closely with our suppliers to ensure the ingredients we buy are safe when we receive them, and then strive to ensure these ingredients are prepared in the safest way possible in our restaurants.
Looking at the supply chain, we have created new models which allow us to further mitigate risk, such as sous vide meats and secondary inhibitors in beans and corn. Additionally, we are contributing financial resources and industry expertise to assist smaller, local growers in enhancing their systems to meet our food safety standards as opposed to mandating requirements and walking away if they can’t be met. We also incentivize food safety as a performance measure in our restaurants for managers and crew members to achieve a quarterly bonus.
From our expert panel that is the Food Safety Advisory Council, to our in-house nurses that provide guidance to our crew members every day, all of Chipotle’s team members are committed to pursuing the highest level of excellence when it comes to food safety. I am lucky to work with some of the country’s most established authorities to ensure our food safety standards continue to be best-in-class. By adapting techniques and protocols from the worlds of healthcare to fine dining, there is no doubt that Chipotle’s food safety work is cutting-edge. I’m proud to say that this continues to drive our mission of cultivating a better world by providing delicious food made with responsibly sourced, real ingredients and prepared fresh daily.
OUR PROCESS TO MITIGATE FOOD SAFETY RISKS BEFORE INGREDIENTS REACH CHIPOTLE
We actively partner with our ingredient suppliers to implement rigorous food safety standards above and beyond regulatory requirements. We have designed these additional controls to reduce or eliminate food safety risks before ingredients ever reach our restaurants.
We require our food suppliers to:
• Implement a series of preventive food safety systems, including HACCP plans and advanced technologies to further control food safety risks.
• Document the effectiveness of the food safety process interventions which are used within harvesting and processing operations.
• Routinely verify the effectiveness of their food safety interventions by using microbiological testing methods recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
We emphasize to our suppliers that the first step of food safety is the design of safe processes, and then we go the extra mile by verifying their programs through on-site inspections and, where applicable, microbial testing.
Our Supplier Food Safety Team conducts routine on-site visits to our suppliers’ operations, to ensure that a true food safety culture is being practiced. Many times, these visits are unannounced. While we do require and collect third-party audits throughout the supply chain, we want to remain abreast of what is actually happening “out in the field.” We also want to share best practices across our ingredient suppliers, so that all suppliers are being held to the same standards and receiving credit for the food safety investments they make.
FOOD SAFETY FUNDING AND TRAINING FOR LOCAL FARMERS
Through our Local Grower Support Initiative, we provide training and funding to small, local growers so that they can implement programs to eventually meet our high standards of food quality and safety. We recognize that many small and mid-sized farms may not be equipped to sell to large organizations like ours, and we know that oftentimes significant investments are needed. We support our local growers by providing and covering the cost of facility improvements/design for food safety, food safety recordkeeping templates, and tools to help comply with new regulatory requirements (e.g. Produce Rule). The Local Grower Support Initiative provides participating smaller growers with a portion of the resources necessary to scale their business, while keeping food safety at the forefront of their growth.
ADVANCED TOOLS THAT ELIMINATE PATHOGENS WHILE MAINTAINING FOOD QUALITY
We utilize several advanced technologies in our commissaries and restaurants to improve the safety of our raw ingredients without affecting nutrition or taste. These technologies are novel methods for preparing foods in a QSR concept, and we are proud that we are able to devote resources to these methods in the name of food safety. We utilize these technologies at our 2,600 restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Europe,
Sous vide is a process by which foods are placed in a vacuum-sealed package and heated at low temperatures for extended periods of time. It is a method of cooking employed by many of the world’s great chefs. It is also a recognized and validated intervention for controlling harmful bacteria. We use the sous vide process at the commissary level for our steak so that we can prevent raw beef from ever entering our restaurants. Our sous vide process is performed under continuous USDA inspection and monitored using sophisticated data collection, including continuous temperature monitoring. After the steak has been heated at a low temperature for a precise amount of time, it is seasoned and grilled in our restaurants. The result is steak that is safe, smoky, tender, and flavorful.
As fresh jalapenos are an ingredient in many of our dishes, we have incorporated a blanching step into our restaurant handling process. Before jalapenos can be diced, they are blanched according to well-defined procedures, while keeping crew member safety in mind. This process has been scientifically validated to reduce bacterial loads.
PROTOCOLS FOR HANDLING INGREDIENTS AND SANITIZING SURFACES IN OUR RESTAURANTs
We maintain a clean environment in our restaurants and employ safe food handling practices. In 2018, we enhanced our already strong sanitation and HACCP systems designed to ensure restaurant sanitization and food preparation practices. The HACCP systems identify the critical processes that must be controlled and monitored in order to ensure food safety. The senior manager on duty during each shift is designated the Food Safety Leader and is responsible for checking that all food safety procedures are carefully followed. In each restaurant, the Food Safety Leader monitors the daily HACCP logs across 13 critical control points to provide consistent data collection and the greatest possible assurance of our food’s safety. These enhanced procedures help to ensure any pathogens are eliminated in our restaurants, and that the restaurants themselves do not become a source of contamination. Moreover, we employ robust food safety procedures when it comes to cleaning and sanitization. In 2018, we also introduced and fully implemented the Purell Handcare and Surface Sanitation program. We use a natural treatment that reduces many harmful bacteria and viruses from the restaurant environment.
In order to prevent employees from working while sick, the Food Safety Leader conducts a Chipotle Wellness Check at the time any team member intends to enter the kitchen, or clocks in for work. The Food Safety Leader ensures that the Chipotle Wellness Check is documented and that each employee has stated that they are healthy to work and free of symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea, consistent with FDA guidelines. All visitors that enter the back of house at Chipotle also receive a Chipotle Wellness Check. Chipotle also offers the availability of trained nurses for consultation with any employee who may feel ill in order to determine whether they should be excluded from work, with full pay.
MANDATORY CERTIFICATION FOR MANAGERS AND FIELD LEADERS
We are dedicated to providing our employees the training and support they need to ensure food safety is always a top priority. We require our in-restaurant management teams to be trained and certified in food safety by ServSafe, a specialized, nationally recognized third-party program. ServSafe provides online or in-person courses and exams to all Kitchen Managers, Service Managers, Apprentices, General Managers, and Restaurateurs. Participants learn detailed information about food safety, temperature control, cleaning and sanitizing, cross-contamination control, and safety regulations.
In addition, we train our Field Leaders (leaders responsible for the operational oversight of 5-10 stores in a given region) in the HACCP system certified by the International HACCP Alliance. All Field Leaders are required to provide evidence that they can create a HACCP plan.
Each quarter, all restaurant team members receive Quarterly Food Safety Training which covers the Food Safety Seven and the company’s key food safety priorities. The Food Safety Seven are Chipotle’s “Top 7 Food Safety Things To Remember.” These include: work healthy, work clean, keep produce safe, cook food to correct temperatures, hold hot and cold foods at specified temperatures, maintain sanitary conditions, and call for help when needed. These seven principles are printed on a 3 ft x 2 ft poster in every restaurant.
EXTENSIVE INTERNAL AND THIRD-PARTY FOOD SAFETY INSPECTIONS
We conduct rigorous point-by-point inspections of hundreds of items within our restaurants, including illness policy awareness, temperature controls, food handling and labeling, equipment inspections, procedure validations, and crisis management procedures. Using a software tool which allows for real-time visibility into task completion rates, our Field Leaders complete a comprehensive monthly review of our food safety standards at each restaurant. In addition to the monthly evaluation, our Field Leaders also complete a shorter Owners’ Path assessment at each of their visits to a restaurant, during which they audit the location against our food safety standards. Food safety inspections and audits provide regular, real-time feedback on the performance of each restaurant, allowing us to identify both best practices and areas that could use improvement. The inspections and audits are a part of Chipotle’s commitment to continuous improvement of food safety controls. Following the food safety incidents in 2015, we have significantly increased the number of internal and third-party inspections, which complement mandatory state and local health department inspections. Additionally, we partner with an independent food safety audit division of Ecolab, called Ecosure, to provide rigorous quarterly food safety audits of every Chipotle restaurant in the United States and Canada. Finally, Chipotle’s Safety, Security & Risk team conducts food safety audits of restaurants. Our inspections and audits are then augmented by a centralized review of every health inspection conducted by local government officials, which are shared with our operations teams for swift action. We also have the ability to target our focus on restaurants with low scores, or repeat violations over time, by deploying internal food safety teams to assist and resolve potential issues.
ADVANCED ELECTRONIC SYSTEM TO ENHANCE OUR TRACEABILITY PROGRAM
Our traceability program allows us to identify the menu-item ingredients that have traveled to each restaurant—down to the lot code—from the supplier to each restaurant. We scan every case of refrigerated food in every restaurant delivery. Our traceability program utilizes an electronic system that allows us to track items across our supply chain. Our suppliers identify each food item we track with a unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), and then label each case of ingredients with a barcode containing the GTIN, lot number, and pack date or use-by date. As cases of food move from the supplier to our distribution centers, then on to our restaurants, employees scan the barcoded labels. This process allows us to trace an individual lot through the supply chain – all the way to our restaurants. Chipotle is among the first major restaurants in the U.S. to digitally track items from supplier to each and every restaurant in this way. Our ability to track our ingredients from supplier to restaurant at the lot code level is a powerful tool supplementing our food safety program. It helps ensure that we are able to research and act on food safety and quality concerns quickly and thoroughly, knowing where particular ingredients are at a given time, as well as where they’ve been.
GROUP OF INDUSTRY EXPERTS ADVISING ON AND REVIEWING OUR PROCEDURES
In order to ensure our food safety program is as robust as possible, it’s critical to supplement our internal expertise with independent external guidance. In 2016, we established the Food Safety Advisory Council comprised of industry-leading food safety experts. By combining our own Food Safety team with an esteemed group of specialists, we’re working to ensure the program will continually evolve and improve.
DAVID ACHESON, M.D.
Former Associate Commissioner of Foods, FDA
Dr. Acheson is the President and CEO of the Acheson Group (founded in 2013). This consulting firm provides strategic advice related to food safety and food defense as well as recall and crisis management support to a variety of food/beverage and ancillary technology companies on a global basis.
A graduate of University of London Medical School and expert in infectious diseases, he spent years at the New England Medical Center researching molecular pathogenesis on foodborne pathogens.
In September 2002, Dr. Acheson became the Chief Medical Officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Following several other positions at FDA, he was appointed as Associate Commissioner for Foods, which gave him an agency-wide leadership role for all food and feed issues, including health promotion and nutrition.
HAL KING, PH.D.
Former Research Scientist, CDC and Former Director of Food Safety, Chick-fil-A
Dr. Hal King is the Founder/CEO of the consulting business Public Health Innovations, a partner in the digital food safety company Active Food Safety, and an Associate Professor of Public Health at University of Georgia.
A public health professional, Dr. King has worked on the investigation and prevention of foodborne/infectious diseases for various organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University School of Medicine, and the U.S. Army.
For 11 years of his career, Dr. King served as the Director of Food and Product Safety at Chick-fil-A Inc. He is also past Chairman of the National Restaurant Association Quality Assurance Executive Study Group, past board member on the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the FDA Industry Partnership, past President of the Georgia Association for Food Protection, and currently serves on the CDC Safe Foods Partnership and other corporate advisory boards.
ELISABETH HAGEN, M.D.
Former Under Secretary for Food Safety, USDA
Formerly the Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Hagen oversaw food safety policy for the U.S. meat and poultry industries from 2010-2014 where she advanced major reforms and consumer protections. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Hagen led the science, epidemiology, and laboratory mission at the Food Safety and Inspection Service and was the USDA’s Chief Medical Officer.
Since leaving the USDA, Dr. Hagen has been advising food companies and investors on food trends, regulatory issues, and crisis management. She has served as a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Consumer Products and Risk Advisory and is a member of the Board of Directors of NSF International.
Dr. Hagen earned her M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and is specially-trained in internal medicine and infectious disease.
JAMES MARSDEN, PH.D.
Retired Head of Food Safety, Chipotle Food Safety expert, former meat sciences professor
With over forty years in the food industry, numerous scientific publications, and the development of several antimicrobial interventions, Dr. James Marsden joined Chipotle in 2016 as Executive Director of Food Safety and continues to serve on its Advisory Council.
An expert in working with government officials/regulators, he advised the White House on food safety and testified on numerous occasions to the United States Congress, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). He was also an official adviser during the development of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Food Safety Regulation.
After working for several food and technology providers, he served as Vice President for Scientific Affairs at the American Meat Institute and President of the AMI Foundation. In 1994, he became the Regent’s Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Security at Kansas State University and, in 2014, was elected to the Meat Industry Hall of Fame.