Chipotle Outbreak

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 Chipotle E. coli outbreak was a major health issue in Washington and Oregon in 2015 in which state officials found out that there was an increase in illnesses. On interviewing the affected individuals, they linked the symptoms to eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill locations. This means there was food contamination that affected several people resulting to food poisoning. According to the tests results, victims were infected with STEC O26 and 55 of them were from 11 states including Washington and Oregon according to CDC (2017). This ethical issue affected several people after consuming contaminated food leading to ill health. However, the state and federal regulatory officials failed to identify the food ingredient in Chipotle’s records that was the cause of the problem (CDC, 2017). This is despite the fact that several people presented similar symptoms after eating in Chipotle restaurants. The number affected were between 76 and 25 years and 80 percent of them were female with some being hospitalized (CDC, 2017). According to the epidemiological evidence collected during the investigations, people might have consumed a common meal ingredient at Chipotle Mexican Grill centers. This led to the closure of 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington to respond to the initial outbreak. The restaurants reopened in November 2015 after confirmations that the food did not contain any E.coli.

Ethical Dilemma/Issue(S)

 The ethical issue, in this case, can be related to the company’s motto “food with integrity” which convinced consumers that they were having the best (CDC, 2017). This trust enticed many people to eat at the restaurants with confidence that they were having the best meals in the nation prepared with natural ingredients. Several customers trusted Chipotle foods before the outbreak. Although the investigations did not find the ingredient that caused the illness the victims believed that the food was contaminated. The affected people had a meal in Chipotle restaurant before the onset of the symptoms (CDC, 2017). The company had convinced its customers that its food was healthy thus; many of them could not associate the illness with the food from Chipotle restaurants. Currently, fewer people believe that Chipotle offers healthy food but reports indicate that about 500 persons have become sick in various parts of the world after eating Chipotle food (CDC, 2017). The company may have paid too much attention to the provision of natural foods and forgotten about microbial safety. This means that the problem was not the ingredients in the foods consumed but bacterial contamination that resulted in the outbreak. The motto of the company ridiculed the consumers since the restaurant did not provide the quality expected. The issue has affected the performance of the restaurants with sales dropping by about 16 percent and share value by about 30 percent (CDC, 2017). This means that investigating the case of food poisoning may be difficult if some are left out. Again, the investigators focused on food ingredients instead of the preparation conditions to rule out contamination. Food that was served raw might be the cause of the infections such as lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro. Although the company cooperated with the CDC investigators, it has no proper system to help trace movement of the food from the farm to the restaurant. Getting back the customers to the restaurant may be quite difficult for the company, as they fear more outbreaks.

The Stakeholders Involved

The stakeholders involved include the company management who were in charge of all activities in the restaurants including ordering of ingredients, managing employees, and ensuring food safety. In this case, the management needs to explain the manner in which the food became contaminated and cooperate with the authorities in every step of the investigation. Their role is to ensure cleanliness, food quality, and proper supervision during food preparation among others. The customers are also important in this case since they were affected by the outbreak. They should follow up and know the cause of the infection they suffered to avoid experiencing a similar ordeal in other places. After the incidence, many of them have opted to buy foods in other restaurants instead of Chipotle fearing for their health (CDC, 2017). The suppliers were also affected by the incidence since they might have been the cause of the problem by supplying contaminated foods. When Chipotle closed some of its restaurants, the suppliers experienced low sales leading to losses due to lack of market. In addition, their reputation was damaged for being associated with the outbreak. The process of investigation by the CDC authorities also affected their performance since they had to comply with the conditions given. Since they played a role in the food contamination case, they lost their customers due to decreased trust. Employees of the company played a role in the contamination case, since it may have occurred during food preparation. This may be blamed on levels of hygiene, which require some improvement. In addition, they faced temporary unemployment during the period of closure affecting their income and their psychological well-being due to temporary loss of job, which was quite stressing. The motto of the company was to provide the best services and quality food but the E.coli outbreak proves otherwise.

The Ethical Norms

Some ethical norms are related to the case such a trustworthiness that focuses on the manner in which individual acts. The actions must add value in a relationship in which one keeps promises and avoids deceptions of any nature. In the E.coli case, the company management is untrustworthy since it promised quality foods to its customers yet it failed (CDC, 2017). For instance, the motto of offering food with integrity does not hold since customers ended up with health issues after consuming it. The company needs to build trust with its customers and other stakeholders to promote good business relationships. In addition, some of the suppliers are untrustworthy since their product is not safe for consumption. Responsibility is also another ethical norm related to the case since various stakeholders are expected to play their role effectively. For instance, employees must ensure cleanliness during food preparation while the management must provide an environment that allows high hygiene standards. They should also meet the expectations of the customers by being accountable for their actions and providing quality products and services. Furthermore, the suppliers need to act responsibly by supplying products of high quality free of contamination. However, this did not happen since none of them admitted being the cause of the contamination. Another pillar is caring that helps individuals to make ethical decisions with others’ concerns in their minds. The decisions made should not cause harm to others such as in the case of Chipotle in which people suffered health issues after consuming food (CDC, 2017). Since the contaminated food came from one or more of the suppliers it is clear that the management’s decision favored their business and not the customers. Integrity pillar also relates to the case since the restaurant owners acted contrary to their promise. Lack of food integrity causes health problems to the customers yet the company had promised to offer excellent services. Ethical standards are important in every business and should be followed to ensure the quality of products and services offered.

Alternative Courses of Action and Tradeoffs

The case is complicated but there is some alternative course of actions and tradeoffs, which can help in restoring trust in the customers and rebuilding the image of the restaurant. Although no deaths were reported, food industries can help a lot in ensuring safety of foods in restaurants and other eating joints (CDC, 2017). The company management should come up with new regulations on the supply of raw materials to the restaurants to avoid such incidences. For instance, it should request the suppliers to comply with laws governing food production such as accepted levels of chemicals in food supplies. The trade-off will involve suppliers incurring more cost to ensure that they improve quality. They will need to compromise on earning huge profits to supply quality products to the restaurant. Another action to take is for the management to test samples of the foods supplied to rule out contamination in the farms during production. After that, the management must ensure high hygiene during food preparation to avoid chances of food contamination that may lead to poisoning. The main trade-off is that the company will have to choose to make lower profits but provide quality food. It may not be easy for a company to compromise on profits but it is a better way to reduce chances of contamination of foods.


The problem could have been solved through the Utilitarian Principle, which requires one to act in a way, which results in the greatest good of many people. In the case, the outbreak could have been avoided if the company management chose the suppliers carefully. In this case, the restaurant management should have scrutinized some samples of the produce supplied thoroughly before placing orders. Any form of contamination could have been identified and action taken to prevent the outbreak. However, the management seemed to trust their suppliers but the latter supplied contaminated product. Although the process may be expensive, the results favor customers who are the consumers of the foods supplied. Failing to inspect supplies is very dangerous and can lead to loss of lives thus the restaurant must be keen on who sells to them.

Personal Beliefs or Feelings

I feel that the problem could have been solved by tracking down the production and storage techniques of suppliers to establish the culprit since the source of the contaminated food must have originated from some of them. In addition, investigating the employees and their hygiene practices during food preparation could help in resolving the issue. The management should also apologize to consumers especially those that were affected and promise to improve the service. Winning the trust of the clients will improve business and help the restaurants to recover from the losses suffered when it closed operations.

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