Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice to pay $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges related to foodborne illness outbreaks beginning in 2015 that sickened more than 1,100 people.
According to the DoJ, the California-based fast food restaurant chain will pay the largest-ever fine in a food-safety case. The fine consists of a $10 million payment by June 1, 2020, followed by three separate payments of $5 million each.
Between 2015 and 2018, there were at least five food-safety incidents at Chipotle’s restaurants in the Los Angeles area, Boston, Virginia, and Ohio. Consumers were impacted mainly by outbreaks of norovirus, a highly infective pathogen that easily can be transmitted by food workers handling ready-to-eat foods and their ingredients.
The DoJ noted that Chipotle failed to ensure that its employees understood and complied with its food safety protocols, leading to hundreds of customers getting sick.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna for the Central District of California said, “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.”
Chipotle now has signed a three-year deferred prosecution agreement or DPA with the DoJ, under which the government has agreed to take no other action relating to these past incidents for three years, if the company complies with its deal obligations.
Under the DPA, the company would enhance and maintain its existing comprehensive food safety compliance program. Chipotle would also work with its independent Food Safety Advisory Council, which was formed following the 2015 outbreaks, to evaluate its food safety audits, restaurant staffing, and employee training.
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