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By Staff | Dec 18, 2015

Next time Hillary Clinton wants to stop for lunch at a Chipotle restaurant, her Secret Service protection detail will have to stop her.

It would appear that there would be too great a personal security risk for presidential candidates given the terrible food safety breakdown occurring with the Chipotle food system.

Chipotle has been selling itself as the best thing since sliced bread branding itself as an elite restaurant supply chain. It has put ridiculous restrictions on those they source meat from, controlling livestock production protocols that has resulted in supply outages when protocols were not met.

Customers are led to believe that the hog producer did something wrong, but I believe that it was Chipotle’s protocols that were flawed which is why it don’t tell exactly what the circumstances were.

It has taken the tact that it can’t buy U.S. beef or pork raised the way it wants so now it sources beef from Australia and pork from England.

This is all about branding, making your restaurant different than others and taking advantage of consumer ignorance.

Chipotle had been on a roll, but its arrogance and elitism is catching up to it. It is now at the top of the list for the largest E. coli outbreaks in recent years.

The surprise is that all the while it’s trying to get on top of its food crisis, it keeps expanding.

Despite the sicknesses, it seems the latest instance was not E. coli, but norovirus.

The geographical range of Chipotle foodborne illnesses runs contrary to its premise that by buying local, food safety issues would be relegated to local suppliers. This is not local with several regions with different suppliers involved.

The company admitted in its annual report, “We may be at a higher risk for foodborne illness outbreaks than some competitors due to our use of fresh produce and meats (sic) rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation.”

It has a problem with food safety; more specifically, with preparation. E. coli can come in many raw foods, is most often associated with meat, but that is not always the case; and is unlikely in this instance.

A bunny can pee on lettuce on an organic farm and it gets carried through the system.

My Masters of Food Science niece works for Kraft Foods. She tells me that it is handling protocols relative to food preparation to determine whether consumers are sickened with E. coli. Chipotle seems obsessed with finding the source of the pathogens.

She said foodborne pathogens are typically there, but through washing and cooking the risk is eliminated.

So in other words, while screening products for pathogens is okay, the primary line of defense that was breeched was in food handling and preparation.

You don’t cook lettuce so you depend on washing. You do cook meat properly wherever it is sourced.

Jimmy Johns had a problem with washing green sprouts. Due to its structure, it did not feel confident in its ability to clean them properly, so after one incident, it dropped sprouts from sandwich options.

For this big of a foodborne illness outbreak as experienced by Chipotle, something is wrong with something it has been doing in the kitchen.

This is a company that thinks it knows it all. It thinks that it knows how to raise livestock and has gone to great lengths denigrating the U.S. livestock

It has been telling others how to do things when it obviously has its own problems.

U.S. livestock producers are the best in the world. What Chipotle attempted to do by claiming the livestock industry was so flawed that it could not source meat products from commercial channels is create a persona of being elite, or a bad case of hubris.

I think that its inability to properly handle food, making people ill, should have shattered that false persona.

It is now adopting stricter food safety standards, but how could it say it had the highest food safety protocols?

According to an SEC filing, sales were off 16 percent in November and Chipotle has not been able to end what is a rolling food safety crisis.

Now, if you are a fan of Chipotle you can track how it is doing through the Center for Disease Control website.

What goes around comes around and it appears that its arrogance caught up to Chipotle.

Now, if you have someone that you don’t like, for Christmas – instead of giving them coal in their stocking, why not give them a Chipotle gift card?

That would put you on Santa’s naughty list, but Chipotle needs the business.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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