Three things we can learn from Chipotle's food borne illness outbreak

As a restaurateur, one of your biggest fears may be experiencing a customer who doesn’t like the food you or your employees have prepared for them. But do you know what is even scarier? What if one of your restaurant patrons gets sick from your food, or worse-case-scenario, dies from your food? How can you prevent that from happening and how you can protect yourself, your business and your employees in case it does?

Earlier in 2016, Chipotle, a national Mexican food restaurant chain, came under attack due to a food borne illness that contaminated their food. What’s interesting is the contamination came from a sick employee–this is interesting because if the sick employee had been encouraged to not come to work, or had known they should not come in to work, this contamination may never had happened and the whole ordeal could have been avoided.

Let’s take a look at three different scenarios from Chipotle’s food borne illness experience and see what restaurant owners can learn from them.

Scenario #1

Jack hasn’t felt well for the past two days but he thinks he cannot miss work because he is a relatively new employee and doesn’t want his manager to view him as a slacker. So, Jack drags himself into work while sick, coming into contact with not only his co-workers, but also customers and the food he helps prepare for them.

As a business owner, it’s important to stress to your employees how important it is for them to stay home when sick. Not only is this important for their health, but it is also important for the health of your entire team and your customers. As mentioned earlier, the Chipotle scandal stemmed from a sick employee and could have potentially been avoided if that employee had felt more comfortable with taking a sick day.

Scenario #2

Because Jack came into work sick, he spread his virus, which happened to be e-coli, into the food of a few customers. Thankfully only one customer became very sick and had to be hospitalized, but unfortunately they decided to sue the restaurant for their illness and hospital bills.

All restaurants need liability insurance for this exact reason. General liability insurance policies cover the restaurant in the event a customer gets sick and decides to sue the restaurant. This insurance will cover doctor’s bills, the time they needed to take off work from being sick and any other damages.

Scenario #3

Jack contaminated food at a restaurant that is part of a nationwide chain, causing customers to avoid other chains throughout the nation out of fear that their local restaurant may have contaminated food as well.

For restaurant owners, this is where a standalone food borne illness policy and a business income policy will both come into play. The standalone food borne illness policy covers loss of income due to the food borne illness outbreak, pays for things like dealing with health departments and hiring public relations to restore your name. A business income policy will cover any loss income your restaurant may experience due to an outbreak at another restaurant related to yours.

Learning from Chipotle

While the situation Chipotle experience was devastating for both the restaurant and the customers that became sick, it’s important to learn from the mistakes they made and improve your own food safety policies and protections are your restaurant. What other scenarios can you think of as a restaurant owner that could happen? Talk to your insurance agent to learn about any potential gaps in your restaurant business insurance and learn what you can do to improve your coverage.

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