Chipotle Hires Food Safety Consultants, One a Former FDA Official

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

May 12, 2016

Chipotle Mexican Grill is engaging two leading food safety experts -- one, a former official of the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture and critic of the burrito chain's early response to disease outbreaks last year, and the other, a food safety consultant and former Jack in the Box executive -- as it redoubles its efforts to guard against health scares, says a report from Reuters.

David Acheson, a former official at the FDA  and the USDA , has been retained as an adviser, it was reported yesterday, May 11.

Reuters said that earlier, Acheson criticized Chipotle for relying too heavily on its one treatment approach and initial response to the health scares, which focused on testing ingredients for pathogens with the goal of stopping any source of illness from getting into its restaurants. The company promoted a testing regime set up by another consultant, Mansour Samadpour, chief executive of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group.

Chipotle is also said to be working with David Theno, a food safety consultant and former Jack in the Box executive, credited with "fixing food safety" at the fast-food chain following a deadly E. coli outbreak in the 1990s. Respected among food safety experts, the involvement of Acheson and Theno may mean an expansion in Chipotle's reforms, Reuters speculated, but the scope is not yet clear.

Chipotle hasn't disclosed when the consultants will begin or detail their duties, the report notes. In March, the company announced it hired James Marsden, a former meat science professor at Kansas State University, as executive director of food safety. Marsden will reportedly have "primary responsibility for the food safety programs."

The moves are part of Chipotle's efforts to bounce back from disease outbreaks at its outlets last year, including E. coli, salmonella and norovirus that plummeted sales, lost customers and slashed $6 billion off its market valuation.

"We have committed to establishing Chipotle as an industry leader in food safety, and we have assembled an extremely capable team to help us achieve that goal," said company spokesperson Chris Arnold to Reuters.

Arnold added that Chipotle continues to work with the IEH testing firm.

The chain's more recent changes have focused on food preparation, and it has apparently cut some of its small suppliers, but Arnold said it would continue to support smaller farms, and has committed to spending $10 million to help them meet its standards. But he also said the company has noted it may be difficult for "some of our smaller suppliers to meet our heightened food safety standards."

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