Federal regulators have some serious questions for Chipotle after the chain suffered yet another food poisoning outbreak at a Virginia restaurant this month.
The burrito shop revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Wednesday that it was served a federal grand jury subpoena last week as part of an ongoing probe into the company’s food safety practices.
“We intend to continue to fully cooperate in the investigation,” the company wrote in the document.”It is not possible at this time to determine whetherwe will incur, or to reasonably estimate the amount of, any fines or penalties.”
Regulators first launched the criminal investigation in 2015 after the first wave of food-borne illnesses sickened hundreds of customers across the country. It’s being conducted as a joint operation between a the U.S. Attorney’s office for central California and the Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigations team.
Chipotle CEO Steve Ells claimed this week that the most recent incident originated with a sick employee at the Sterling, Virginia store. More than 130 people are said to have fallen ill from that contamination.
Ells said the company’s been doubling down on emphasizing food safety rules in response.
“We made it clear to the entire company that we have a zero-tolerance policy,” Ells told investors in a call on Tuesday.”When followed, they work perfectly.”
The county health department said at least two of those infected have been diagnosed with norovirus, the same sickness that afflicted one of the waves of victims in the company’s previous spate of outbreaks two years ago. That contagion was also traced back to a sick worker.
Despite the assurances of Ells, the department said it hasn’t yet determined the specific source of the most recent outbreak.
The rash of new sicknesses come as Chipotle was still digging itself out of the public perception hole caused by its last food scare. The incident was such a crushing stroke of bad luck that one industry consultant has even hatched a conspiracy theory suggesting corporate sabotage may be at play.
“It does beg the question: How is it that Chipotle has been struck by Norovirus, Salmonella, and E.coli in different locations throughout the country, in such short order?” independent consultant Aaron Allen wrote in a LinkedIn post.
Foul play or not, Chipotle clearly has some more explaining to do.