Despite a rough few months for the national burrito behemoth Chipotle, metro Phoenix health inspectors think there's nothing to worry about at local restaurants.
In October, the restaurant chain sickened customers in nine states with E. coli, and though we now know the outbreak affected at least 50 people, we still don't know the source. And that outbreak came after the restaurant chain sickened some 200 people in California with Norovirus in August.
Arizona hasn't yet been affected by any of the food borne illness issues, and for health inspectors in Maricopa County, it's business as usual when checking out metro Phoenix's Chipotle restaurants.
"We conduct our inspections as usual, and we’re hoping that there won’t be any issues here with them or with any other restaurants," says Johnny Diloné, a spokesman for Maricopa County's Environmental Services Department.
An examination of Chipotle's inspection records tells the same story — no Chipotle restaurant in the Valley earned a failing grade on a county health inspection within the past eight months, though many do not participate in the department's voluntary grading system. Reviewing the restaurant's inspection reports also indicates violations seem few and far between.
Officials from the county say it's important for fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle, where food sometimes sits out longer than in a traditional restaurant, to pay attention to temperature. Employees should also make sure co-workers are healthy, so that anyone sick doesn't spread foodborne illness, according to Maricopa County environmental health specialist Joseph Matthews, also with the Environmental Services Department.
As you might imagine, confidence in the company is on the decline. Sales were down 30 percent in December for the company nationwide, according to a recent financial filing, and stock prices for the company fell to a one-year low last week. Investors are suing the chain for misleading them over food-safety issues, and the government has launched an investigation into the norovirus outbreak.
But what about public opinion? We asked diners at Scottsdale Fashion Square's food court, where a Chipotle recently opened, if the recent E. coli controversy has scared them off the burrito chain.
Connie Waldo, a web developer in Scottsdale, said she's gone a few times since the E. coli news.
"We don’t have any incidents in Arizona, so I’m not that concerned about it," she said.
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But not everyone is convinced. Roberto Miranda is done eating at Chipotle after reading the news.
"It doesn’t sound appetizing after you hear something about that," he said.
Chipotle did not respond to our request for comment.