Despite extensive testing of ingredients, surfaces, and procedures, neither Chipotle Mexican Grill nor federal and state health authorities have been able to figure out precisely why so many outbreaks of foodborne illness have suddenly stemmed from the fast-food burrito chain since the summer.
The outbreaks hammering Chipotle, which prides itself on its non-factory farmed food and anti-GMO stance, have sickened at least 500 people in multiple states. They have been linked to a number of pathogens: E. coli O157:H7, E. coli STEC 026, Salmonella, norovirus, and possibly even hepatitis A.
It’s always a challenge to pinpoint the exact source of an outbreak, and when investigators have to deal with multiple outbreaks involving a chain where burritos are made according to whatever mix of ingredients the customer wants, it becomes even harder to connect the dots.
But some natural food advocates say ample evidence exists indicating Chipotle is a victim of corporate sabotage orchestrated by the biotech food industry. According to conspiracy theorists, Big Biotech has dispatched “food terrorists” to plant E. coli and other germs in Chipotle food as payback for its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and its non-GMO menu.
The objective of deliberately contaminating Chipotle food, some anti-GMO activists claim, is “to destroy both the reputation and finances of the Chipotle food chain.”
To support this theory, they say the Chipotle outbreaks involve a “rare genetic strain” of E. coli that isn’t normally found in food, citing statements made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its investigations of the outbreak.
“Furthermore, we also know the track record of the biotech industry engaging in the most criminal, dirty, sleazebag tactics imaginable against any person or company that speaks out against GMOs,” health advocate Mike Adams told Food Safety News.
Also, nothing like a series of food-poisoning outbreaks has ever happened to Chipotle in its 22-year history, so for everything to start running amiss may seem too strange to be bad business or just a fluke.
But food safety expert Charlie Hopper, author of Selling Eating, thinks it may be a little of both. When Food & Wine asked him for his take on the Chipotle situation, he replied that the logistics of successfully pulling off a conspiracy were “inconceivable.” Selling Eating quotes him as saying:
“This is just extraordinarily bad luck mixed with perhaps a little mismanagement and a public relations nightmare.”