Chipotle pays record $25M to settle criminal DOJ charges over food safety

Chipotle is paying a record $25 million fine to settle criminal charges that its burrito joints sickened more than 1,100 people over a three-year period because of lax food-safety practices, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

The fast-food chain made headlines repeatedly between 2015 and 2018 for multi-state food-borne illness outbreaks — including one that infected 647 people with norovirus in Powel, Ohio, and sent hundreds to the hospital.

“Chipotle failed to ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols, resulting in hundreds of customers across the country getting sick,” US Attorney for the Central District of California Nick Hanna said in a statement.

Chipotle was implicated in at least five outbreaks in Los Angeles, Boston, Virginia and Ohio, where employees failed to follow company food-safety protocols, the government said.

In Boston, a December 2015 outbreak that sickened 141 people involved an ill apprentice-manager who was “ordered to continue working” despite the fact that he had vomited at the restaurant, according to the agreement.

Two days later, the same employee helped to package a catering order for a Boston College basketball team, whose members subsequently became ill.

Chipotle employees also reported pressure to work while sick, the government said of its three-year investigation conducted by the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

The settlement allows Chipotle to avoid prosecution as the company has agreed to improve its food safety program, the government 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 Chief Executive Brian Niccol said in a statement.

Niccol succeeded Chipotle’s founder and former CEO Steve Ells in February 2018. He was the former head of Taco Bell.

The $25 million is on top of what many victims of the outbreak were paid by Chipotle in private settlements.

“There were significantly injured people in the outbreak, including children who developed acute kidney failure and people who were hospitalized for a period of time,” food safety attorney Bill Marler, who represented 350 Chipotle customers, told The Post.

Separately Tuesday, Chipotle’s quarterly earnings beat Wall Street’s expectations as online orders surged 81 percent amid the coronavirus crisis.