Chipotle is moving some of its food preparation from restaurants to a central kitchen as it works to increase food safety in the wake of illness outbreaks tied to its restaurants, the Wall Street Journal’s Julie Jargon reports.
Tomatoes, cilantro, and lettuce are among the ingredients that are now being prepared in the central kitchen and shipped to restaurants in plastic bags, according to the report.
The company is also expecting to start scaling back on its use of local ingredients, because smaller suppliers will likely have difficulty meeting its new standards for food safety and testing, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Business Insider.
The changes mean Chipotle is taking a small step toward becoming more like McDonald’s and other major food chains that Chipotle has historically derided for their reliance on massive food suppliers and factories to prepare and freeze ingredients before sending them to restaurants.
Chipotle founder Steve Ells promised investors at a meeting last week that the changes won’t affect food quality and taste.
“You could bring fresh cilantro right out of the field into the restaurant and wash it there. I don’t think that would be any better than washing the cilantro in the commissary,” Ells said, according to the Journal. “And if dried properly and then sealed in the bags, it’s a delicious product.”
Despite the changes, Chipotle isn’t giving up entirely on local suppliers.
“We continue to be committed to working with local suppliers,” Arnold said. “Because we have enhanced standards for food safety and testing, we expect that some of our local suppliers might have more trouble meeting those standards (particularly as it relates to testing), but we are also exploring ways that we might be able to help them meet those new standards.”
He noted that locally-sourced ingredients only account for about 10% of Chipotle’s produce.
Chipotle is strengthening its food safety standards following an E. coli outbreak linked to its restaurants that sickened 52 people in nine states over the last several months.
The company was also hit recently with a norovirus outbreak tied to a single restaurant in Boston that sickened more than 150 people.
The burrito chain has warned that its same-store sales could fall for the first time in company history this quarter because of the outbreak. The company is expecting a decline of between 8% and 11%.
Analysts expect same-store sales to continue declining even longer, through at least June 2016.
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