Outbreaks were not entirely Chipotle's fault

While most restaurants consider the dangerous conditions in their kitchens that cause food-borne illness outbreaks, like employee hand washing and food cooked to temperature, most do not have a plan for things like power outages that shut off refrigerators or for when the city neglects to pick up the trash and pests convene. 

Without knowledge of their exposure to risks outside their doors, restaurants can not take proactive measures, and end up putting their diners and shareholders at risk. Ask Chipotle. Each store gets inspected at least 4 times per year, yet six outbreaks, including e. coli and norovirus, sickened 500 people in the second half 2015. In 2016, they reported their first ever quarterly loss; sales dropped by 29.7%.

 “It probably wasn’t entirely Chipotle’s fault. Environmental conditions, their neighbors and neighborhoods contributed to their violations and risk of an outbreak,” says Carey Anne Nadeau who developed FIVAR, a product that ranks restaurants based on their likelihood of a violation.

 In developing a ranking, Nadeau’s company Open Data Nation looked at a restaurant’s history of violations, a host of environmental conditions, and Yelp reviews. In a case study of Montgomery County, MD, a semi-urban community outside of Washington DC, all 1117 restaurants were ranked by their risk of a violation as of November 2015.

“What we found was, Chipotle restaurants were all over the map when we ranked restaurants by their risk of an inspection violation,” says Nadeau. The 12 Chipotles included in the study ranked from 52nd to 934th most likely to have a violation. This means that there may be something other than Chipotle’s systematic inspection practices that are resulting in violations. 

While this news may put shareholders at ease, for diners Chipotle still may not be the best choice. FIVAR also found that a quarter of the Chipotle locations ranked in the top 10% of risky restaurants.

To keep more diners safe, Open Data Nation is working with more city and county public health agencies to expand FIVAR. By using data to send inspectors to high-risk locations, FIVAR can identify 27% more violations, 3 days sooner on average, respond in near real-time to outbreaks and save an estimated $2 million in human resource costs alone.

Photo credit: Zach Zupancic