Scratch that burrito off your list of lunch possibilities today.
Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican food chain, is closed until 3 p.m. for a companywide safety briefing after outbreaks of norovirus and E. coli sickened customers last year.
While you may have to wait for your daily guacamole fix, the company let customers tap into the briefing through Twitter and Periscope, and is gifting free burritos to those whose lunch plans were messed up by the meeting. A promotion on the company's website says, "if we messed up your lunch plans today, follow the steps and we'll hook you up," telling people to text the word "raincheck" to 888-222.
More than 50,000 employees attended the meeting by gathering in areas such as hotel conference rooms and movie theaters to hear broadcast remarks from executives. Co-CEO Steve Ells apologized that the company's food made people sick while co-CEO Monty Moran outlined steps Chipotle has taken to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. Those include testing ingredients on farms and in its central kitchens and implementing techniques like blanching raw vegetables to kill germs.
Ells also announced a $10 million commitment to helping small farmers keep up with Chipotle's new food-safety standards so that the company is able to continue sourcing food from local growers. The money will go toward education and help offset the cost of enhanced testing protocols, he said in a Periscope broadcast.
Chipotle has been in crisis mode for months since the illnesses were traced to its restaurants. Its sales and traffic plummeted in the fourth quarter and its stock price has tanked. Shares were down about 4% in late afternoon trading Monday.
In October, people who had eaten at Chipotle started showing symptoms of E. coli, an outbreak that eventually affected more than 50 people in 11 states. An outbreak of a different strain of E. coli then affected five more people in December. Then at a Boston Chipotle in December, more than 120 people contracted norovirus.
A federal investigation into the E. coli outbreak was officially closed last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it appears to be over. No new cases have been reported since Dec. 21. Investigators were unable to determine what food caused it. Meanwhile, Chipotle is still under a criminal investigation for a norovirus incident at a California store in August.
A major marketing campaign starts this month to win back customers who were scared away. But Chipotle has competition. Several other chains are taking advantage of the company's temporary store closures by offering discounts to lure away customers.
Freshii's more than 200 restaurants will offer certain Mexican items on its menu at half off Monday. Moe's Southwest Grill, which has about 600 locations, is rolling out an ad campaign touting itself as customers' "Rebound Burrito," and will offer a coupon to buy one, get one free on burritos. Casual-dining chain On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina is using Chipotle's meeting as an opportunity to launch to-go lunchboxes filled with a burrito or burrito bowl and will sell them for $5-$6 Monday only. They normally cost about $8.50 to $10.50.