Chipotle Mexican Grill will pay a $25 million fine to satisfy federal criminal charges accusing the chain of sickening more than 1,100 customers with norovirus over three years, U.S. attorneys said on Tuesday.
The federal prosecutors also said that Newport Beach-based Chipotle pressured ill employees to come in to work.
The fine is the largest ever imposed on a company accused of starting an outbreak of a food-borne illness, said Nick Hanna, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles.
In addition to the fine, Chipotle agreed to spend millions of dollars to update food-safety protocols for its stores.
Prosecutors said numerous Chipotle employees – many teenagers – reported they didn’t receive proper training on how to store food at safe temperatures.
The employees also said restaurants lacked adequate staff, with some managers forcing them to work even if they showed symptoms of an illness.
At least five outbreaks from 2015 to 2018 at Chipotle restaurants across the country began when employees failed to follow food-safety rules, the U.S. attorneys say.
Each of the locations exposed hundreds of customers and employees to pathogens like the norovirus, which can transfer through infected surfaces, as wells as bacteria growing in food stored at improper temperatures, according to the allegations.
At least 234 customers and employees who visited a Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley became ill after a worker there vomited while on the job, the federal lawyers say.
The worker was sent home, they added, but the restaurant didn’t report the incident to officials until two days later, after multiple customers reported feeling ill.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.