The headline above—“Chipotle’s head of food safety plans to retire”—is slightly misleading. Not because it’s factually inaccurate, but because of what it’s slyly implying and what you’re probably thinking. Which is: “Oh great, like Chipotle really needs its food safety head to retire, amiright?” But let us frame it in the right context.
The topline news hook is that James Marsden, the chain’s current executive director of food safety, is planning to retire sometime in 2019, according to a Bloomberg report. Marsden, who was previously a professor of food safety at Kansas State University, joined Chipotle in 2016 after its spate of outbreaks in 2015, which included norovirus, E. coli, and salmonella.
After Marsden came on board, two more isolated cases of outbreak happened, one in Virginia in 2017, and the most recent in Ohio this past July, which appears to have been from the bacteria clostridium perfringens, which occurs if large quantities of food are kept at a warm temperature for extended periods of time. Chipotle has said it will train its employees quarterly in food safety.
Chipotle’s reputation took a hit, and one could argue it hasn’t recovered. But signs of Marsden’s effort are visible: Just last month, the chain announced plans to implement a mobile app called Zenput to manage and streamline its food safety compliance. Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol (he was the former head of Taco Bell) claims that customer confidence is rebounding, and that shares of the company are up 65 percent since the start of the year.
So let us recap: The executive director of Chipotle’s food safety division is reportedly retiring next year. He was hired after the series of 2015 outbreaks. Several other outbreaks occurred during his tenure. Changes, the company said, are being made. Chipotle’s finances have improved, but its reputation for food safety issues has stuck for some.