Chipotle Back in the News With Restaurant Illness Issue

One Month After Big Food Safety Push, One Massachusetts Location Closed After Four Employees Got Sick

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Credit: Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill temporarily shut a restaurant in Massachusetts after four employees got sick, the latest issue for the chain as it tries to recover from a series of foodborne-illness outbreaks.

The illness issue comes one month after Chipotle voluntarily closed all of its restaurants for a few hours for a Feb. 8 meeting at which it addressed updated food-safety protocols.

Since then, Chipotle has been rolling out the largest marketing campaign in the company's history as it tries to woo diners who stayed away following the 2015 outbreak concerns. The effort includes plans to spend about $50 million on marketing and promotions in the first quarter, including free food offers via text, as well as direct mail, outdoor, print and digital advertisements. The latest issue became public on March 8, the same day Chipotle began promoting its upcoming Cultivate food and music festivals.

Chipotle has been reeling from a food-safety crisis since early November, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating an E. coli outbreak linked to the chain's restaurants. That brought attention to previous foodborne illnesses among the chain's customers. The concerns grew after a norovirus outbreak sickened scores of college students in Boston in December, weighing on Chipotle's sales.

The Massachusetts location in the town of Billerica, outside Boston, was closed for a full cleaning, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Bloomberg via email. It was not known if the sick employees in Billerica had norovirus, and there are no reports of customers falling ill, Mr. Arnold said on Tuesday. Chipotle said none of the employees at the Massachusetts restaurant worked while sick, and it plans to reopen the location on Thursday.

"Any employees who reported feeling ill will be tested and held out of the restaurant until they fully recover," Mr. Arnold said.

Chipotle offers paid sick leave and has programs in place to extend sick leave "when circumstances warrant," according to details posted on its website.

Chipotle shares were down 3.4% to $506.77 in Wednesday morning trading. The stock had traded above $750 in October, before the food-safety issues drew headlines.

The Massachusetts health department confirmed that the restaurant was closed voluntarily and that there were no known ill customers.

~~ With reporting by Bloomberg News

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