Investors have taken notice of Chipotle’s latest slip-up concerning foodborne illnesses.
Since July 14, Chipotle’s stock tumbled over 10 percent following a foodborne illness outbreak. A Virginia chain temporarily closed the location after being responsible for the illnesses.
“We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible,” Jim Marsden, Chipotle’s executive director of food safety, told Business Insider. “The reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus. Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle.”
Eight customers initially posted complaints to a website that tracks food poisoning.
The website, iwaspoisoned.com, alerted media outlets of the cluster of sick customers. Several days later, the website told the Wall Street Journal that 133 people reported the bug.
The company shut down the Sterling, Virginia restaurant for a “thorough sanitization,” and it has since reopened. Chipotle says the outbreak was limited to that single location.
That said, Chipotle’s image is still recovering from a high-profile outbreak of E. coli two years ago.
In 2015, 60 customers from 14 states got infected by E. coli from an unknown ingredient in the restaurant’s food supply. Business journalists criticized Monty Moran, a former co-CEO of the company, for blaming the size of the crisis on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the media.
Chipotle spent the next two years rehabbing its image after the months-long ordeal. The stock started to recover when the latest outbreak occurred, so now the chain finds themselves on the defensive once again.
Unlike an E. coli outbreak, norovirus does not spread through the food supply.
That’s mixed news for the company. One on hand, it means that customers at other locations are not in danger. On the other hand, it means a sick employee likely spread the virus. The reports to iwaspoisoned.com showed how ugly norovirus could be:
One customer wrote: “Wife and I ate chicken bowls Friday night. Puking brains out Saturday night and Sunday.”
Another said, “My husband and I both had chicken around 7:00 on Friday, July 14th. Over 24 hours later, we both started vomiting. We are still experiencing symptoms as of Monday morning.”
Dr. Edward Gaydos explained a typical occurrence of norovirus to WebMD. “You’re miserable for 1 to 3 days,” he said. “It’s usually an abrupt onset and a quick recovery. It’s a nuisance, but it’s not something to panic about. Most people will do fine with it.”
The outbreak isn’t the company’s only problem.
A video taken in a Dallas Chipotle isn’t helping the company’s image. The clip shows three mice: one dead on the floor, one scurrying on the floor, and another running up a wall.
The video was widely shared and quickly racked up 100,000 views. The company says it was “an extremely isolated and rare incident.” That offered little comfort to diners there. One of them told NBC that her meal was “ruined by rodents falling from the ceiling.”
Chipotle’s message of clean food and natural ingredients resonates with younger Americans. However, the company’s real world application of these ideals has been lacking. The dip in Chipotle’s stock proves that investors are moving on from the company, and customers may not be far behind.