Chipotle is still struggling to win back the public after E. coli (and norovirus) outbreaks ruined its reputation among investors.
As Chipotle struggles to dig itself out of a huge public relations hole after outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus sent stocks plummeting in the last few months of this year, it may be helpful to look at some of the most notable outbreaks in recent history at fast food chains and how brands managed to survive them.
Chipotle temporarily shuttered 43 restaurants in Washington state in Oregon back in November after the outbreak was first reported, but they aren’t the only restaurants to have experienced outbreaks of E. coli. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 365 E. coli outbreaks between 1998 and 2014, resulting in 533 hospitalizations and three deaths, according to a UPI report.
One of the most significant impacts was back in 1982, when diners at McDonald’s restaurants in oregon and Michigan got sick, marking the first time E. coli O157:H7 was linked to food poisoning. Later outbreaks linked to ground beef would lead to recalls of nearly 22 million pounds in 2007 and 20 million in 2002.
Burger King also struggled with beef-related E. coli problems in 1997, when it had to cut ties with Hudson foods after 25 million pounds of meat were recalled. Sixteen people fell ill in Colorado from the contamination, and hundreds of restaurants in 28 states had to remove burgers from their menus.
And it’s not just beef. E. coli has caused outbreaks in fresh produce at fast food restaurants, including a 1999 incident when 18 people who dined at Kentucky Fried Chickens in the Cincinnati area got sick from poorly prepared coleslaw.
These outbreaks can result in big-dollar lawsuits. Sizzler restaurant had to pay out $13.5 million in damages to a family of a 3-year-old who died in an outbreak at two Sizzler restaurants in Wisconsin. The outbreak was linked to watermelon, which had been cross contaminated by raw meat.