A 19-year-old woman who was one of more than 500 people sickened during one of several foodborne illness outbreaks at Chipotle Mexican Grill locations in multiple states across the country says despite being hospitalized with E.coli after eating one of the restaurant’s burritos and racking up about $40,000 in medical bills, her love for Chipotle’s food never waned.
While her attorney was working with the restaurant to get his client financial compensation, the woman made a startling request. Would Chipotle throw in some free burritos as part of the settlement?
Her attorney had handled countless food poisoning cases in the past quarter century. “I have never had a client ask for that,” he told NBC News. In fact, most people sickened by food they consumed at a restaurant vow never to set foot in the place again. The memory of their violent illness is to painful a reminder. But many of those sickened in the Chipotle outbreak have returned to the restaurant, willing to take the risk to satisfy their craving for the burritos.
During 2015, Chipotle locations in numerous states were hit with outbreaks of E.coli, salmonella and norovirus, which led to a federal investigation and numerous lawsuits from customers. The restaurant vowed to clean up its act, closing more than 2,000 stores for four hours to hold a virtual town hall meeting with employees and even invited some members of the media to sit in. The restaurant also live-tweeted and shared photos of executives and employees during the meeting in a show of transparency.
Chipotle founder Steve Ellis also announced a $10 million program to help small farmers who supply the restaurant chain to help cover the cost of implementing the company’s new food safety system. Those improvements would help ensure the safety of food sold to Chipotle restaurants as well as other restaurants that purchase from the same suppliers. The company also engaged in a major media campaign in an effort to retain customers’ trust.
The tactics seem to be working, at least with the victims of the outbreak. The attorney for the 19-year-old woman who requested free burrito coupons as part of her settlement says several of his 96 clients suing the company have continued to eat there. “It seems like they have a pretty strong base of support. I think in some respects it bodes well for their recovery.”