On the Monday before the Chipotle Mexican Grill on Sawmill Parkway in Powell, OH, was closed for a day over a food safety scare, some lettuce was dropped in the food preparation area, picked up and served to a customer, who then requested the food bowl be remade from scratch.

A customer complaint about that incident made its way to the Deleware General Health District (DGHD), which showed up at the Sawmill Parkway Chipotle on Thursday to discuss the complaint with management and inspection the fast-casual restaurant.

The Delaware health inspectors found critical violations at the Powell Chipotle involving temperature and time control problems. Critical violations of Deleware Food Regulations are those which, if left uncorrected, are more likely than other violations to directly contribute to food contamination or illness.

Chipotle was found in violation of code section 3717-1-03.4(D) / Cooling – temperature and time control as follows:

“Critical Corrected During Inspection TCS foods were not cooled using the proper time and temperature parameters. In-house washed & cut lettuce observed at 53° F in walk in refrigerator after 4 hours of being washed, cut, spun & cooling *all affected product was removed from walk-in & ice bathed with temperatures observed at 41° F* To prevent the growth of pathogens, cooked TCS food shall be rapidly cooled: within two hours from 135°F to 70° F, and within a total of six hours from 135°F to 41°F or less.”

And section 3717-1-03.4(F)(1) / Time/temperature controlled for safety food – hot and cold holding:

“Critical Corrected During Inspection TCS foods were not being held at the proper temperature. 1. back up service pinto beans (counter drop-in hot well) and tos pinto & black beans (within new hot holding cabinet) observed 117-130° F *product reheated* *mod guided to look into where temperature dropped to ensure product is cooked & maintained at 135° F & above*  To prevent the growth of pathogens, except during preparation, cooking, or cooling, or when time is used as a public health control, TCS food shall be held at 135° F or above (except that roasts cooked using time and temperature parameters in 3717-1-03.3 may be held at 130° F), or at 41° F or less.”

A third problem was corrected during the inspection involving code section 3717-1-03.4(E) / Cooling methods – temperature and time control, as explained here:

“Corrected During Inspection Observed improper method for cooling TCS foods. In-house washed & cut lettuce observed at 53 degrees fahrenheit in walk in after 4 hours of cooling observed within deep covered pans at a depth of roughly 6 inches *discussed to use less product in pans and ensure after washing lettuce and spinning that 41 degrees fahrenheit is observed prior to walk in*
To prevent the growth of pathogens: (1) Cooling shall be accomplished in accordance with the time and temperature criteria by using one or more of the following methods based on the type of food being cooled: (a) Placing the food in shallow pans; (b) Separating the food into smaller or thinner portions; (c) Using rapid cooling equipment; (d) Stirring the food in a container placed in an ice water bath; (e) Using containers that facilitate heat transfer; (f) Adding ice as an ingredient; or (g) Other effective methods; (2) When placed in cooling or cold holding equipment, food containers in which food is cooling must be arranged so as to provide maximum heat transfer through the container walls and; loosely covered, or uncovered if protected from overhead contamination.”

The inspection report says DGHD personnel discussed these problems with Chipotle management and “informed slide area of hot & cold foods are regularly sanitized and that foods that fall into this area is not be placed back into customers food being assembled.”

The DGHD inspection report did note “great hand washing on site,” but planned to return for a follow-up inspection in about three weeks. But Chipotle’s problems moved a little faster than that.

Five Chipotle customers, who’d dined at the restaurant Saturday, reported illnesses Sunday involving nausea, cramping, diarrhea that they said occurred 10-20 hours afterward. Two other people, who dined at Chipotle on Friday, made similar reports to the health agency on Monday morning.

But that was not all. The crowd-sourcing site iwaspoisoned.com. was on fire, logging 220 vetted reports involving 405 people who were sickened from eating at the Ohio Chipotle.

When DGHD personnel showed up at the restaurant on Monday, it was closed. Chipotle management appears to have moved on the crowd-sourcing information to get ahead of the sort of food safety issues that plagued the Denver-born chain during the last half of 2015. Spokeswoman Laurie Schalow said Chipotle closed its Powell unit ahead of any confirmed cases of foodborne illness because it takes “all claims of food safety very seriously.”

While closed on Monday, July 30, Chipotle managers told DGHD that two to five staff members called in sick for July 29 and 30. “Due to customer complaints of illness and ill staff excluded from work Chipotle voluntarily closed this location for deep cleaning & sanitizing and removal of all openly exposed foods and single-use equipment,” says the DGHD inspection report for July 30.

Details of Monday’s deep-cleaning and sanitizing work, included:

  • Using 3/4 cup to 1-gallon ratio of bleach/water solution used to clean all surfaces within the facility; prior to food contacting surfaces food contact equipment would be re-washed, rinsed and sanitized.
  • The facility is using ozone treatment this evening (Monday) into tomorrow morning in aid of sanitizing.
  • The facility does a daily employee health check and if any team member is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea or nausea the team member is removed from working for 72 hours after symptoms have stopped.
  • Per Chipotle management, no staff members were working while ill per daily health check.
  • Temperature records indicate proper temperatures for 7/27/18 and 7/28/18.
  • Food thermometer on site.
  • Items may be cooled after evening service and reheated such as beans, chicken, sofritas, carnitas, barbacoa items are reheated to at least 165 degrees F within 2 hours or less. Chipotle management and area management were guided to have staff temperature monitoring the cooling process to ensure within 6 hours product is properly cooling.
  • Management was also guided to do a proper wash, rinse and sanitize in areas where raw chicken is panned although this area is not a direct food contact area if potential exists for foods in prep area to be used the wash, rinse and sanitize would be required rather than only sanitizing.
  • Walk-in refrigerator was observed holding at 35 degrees F to 36 degrees F today (Monday), no open-exposed/prepared foods were observed on site.
  • Area Chipolte management informed DGHD that Chipotle Corp. office was unable to get into contact with DGHD today to inform DGHD of illness complaints.
  • DGHD contact information was provided.
  • Chipotle management was guided to have any ill staff members and customers notify the DGHD food protection team or communicable disease team at 740-368-1700.

The Chipotle Mexican Grill #1123 at 9733 Sawmill PKWY STE G in Powell, OH, was open again on Tuesday, July 31, which was “Free Guac Day” for the 2,400-restaurant chain. But its problems were not over.

Inspectors found another critical violation at the re-opened restaurant on Tuesday. The code violation was: 3717-1-03.4(F)(1) / Time/temperature controlled for safety food – hot and cold holding.“Critical Corrected During Inspection TCS foods were not being held at the proper temperature. pinto beans within dry digital steam well 133°f *product reheated* To prevent the growth of pathogens, except during preparation, cooking, or cooling, or when time is used as a public health control, TCS food shall be held at 135°F or above — except that roasts cooked using time and temperature parameters in 3717-1-03.3 may be held at 130° F — or at 41°F or less.

Notes from the July 31 DGHD inspection reports said: “Today DGHD consulted with Management and Corporate. Based upon procedural review the following are recommended:

1) lettuce once washed and cut must be cooled to 41 degrees F and below within four hours or less of washed cut process;

2) Ensure carried over the product that is cooled in-house is verified to meet proper cooling time and temperature parameters 135-70°F within two hours or less and further cooled from 70-41°F within an additional four hours or less. Total cooling time may not exceed six hours;
3) Ensure four-hour time tracking has physical time tracking associated with all products; and
4) DGHD will follow up with procedural reviewed items later this week.

Chipotle, with more than 2,450 restaurants in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, owns and operates all of its outlets with more than 70,000 employees worldwide. It used almost 700,000 avocados on ” Free Guac Day.” It serves almost 200,000 over an average day according to company materials.

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