DENVER, March 16 (UPI) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill, hit by outbreaks of norovirus and E. coli at its restaurants, hired a food safety watchdog as it attempts a recovery.
James Marsden was hired as Chipotle's new executive director of food safety. Marsden, a former Kansas State University professor specializing in meat safety, has researched control of the dangerous E. coli O157 strain found in raw ground beef.
The Denver-based company is also considering pre-cooking its beef and delivering it to restaurants in vacuum-sealed bags, sources familiar with the company's plans told the Wall Street Journal. The process would kill any E. coli if contamination occurs, but could be a source of contention and a reason for customers to turn elsewhere, as the company has promoted its fresh ingredients and cooked-on-premises methods.
Chipotle said Tuesday that sales have "started to recover" after 55 customers' illnesses in 11 states temporarily closed restaurants and severely impacted the company's sales and share price. It noted, though, that national sales in the first week of March fell 21.5 percent compared to the same week in 2015. It said it expects to report a quarterly loss of $1 per share, compared to a $3.88 per share profit in March 2015, its first loss since it went public in 2006.