April 22 (UPI) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to pay a $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges accusing the fast-food chain of sickening more than 1,100 customers between 2015 and 2018.
The Justice Department announced the agreement Tuesday, noting it's the largest fine ever for a food safety case.
As part of the three-year deferred prosecution deal, the company has also agreed to comply with an improved food safety program.
Chipotle was charged with two counts of violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for producing products that led to several food-borne illness outbreaks, prosecutors said.
"This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customers real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence," Chipotle Chairman and CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement.
According to the agreement, Chipotle admits to at least five food-borne illness outbreaks over the three-year period in Los Angeles, Boston, Virginia and Ohio in which workers failed to comply with food safety protocols.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said hundreds of customers fell ill because Chipotle failed to ensure employees knew and complied with safety protocols. Tuesday's "steep penalty" should not only result in greater protections, he added, but remind others in the industry to "review and improve their own health and safety practices."
More than 230 people became sick at a Simi Valley, Calif., location in 2015 because the restaurant failed to pass along information about an ill employee. More than 140 customers became sick at a Boston location following a norovirus outbreak.
"This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the food service industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food-safety policies," said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt.