Chipotle Has Small E. Coli Outbreak But Salvages Amazing PR Mojo

All others take notice -- to the winning recipe of PR.

So, there you are: Walking about in Oregon or Washington thinking all that Halloween candy you just ate only made you hungrier. Maybe it’s those brownies your hippie neighbors were passing out? Whatever the reason, you are jonesin’ for a burrito!

And it’s off to Chipotle you go. (Where else, right?)

One problem, it’s closed. What!

And good thing because you could have literally lost your lunch. It seems the house of the rolled-up snack needed to close dozens of locations in Pacific Northwest because of a few cases of E. Coli.

When the Washington Department of Health got the news, Chipotle got the message. So, how in the world is this not a much bigger story nationwide? Because everyone in the media has “burrito bucks”? Does the media owe Chipotle good press because all that No-GMO stuff is just liberal press?

No, it’s because Chipotle knows how to handle crisis communications…well.

State health officials in Oregon and Washington say 22 people have been sickened with E.coli bacteria linked to six Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, an outbreak that has sent eight people to the hospital and prompted the Denver-based chain to suspend operations at dozens of locations. goes on to report that within hours, Chipotle reached out to them. Wait, what?! 

Is that how you handle a possible storm — be proactive and squash it personally? Yes, Captain Communications. That is exactly how you do it!

Chipotle managers told state health officials Friday that they would voluntarily close all restaurants in the affected areas until further notice. As of Saturday, 43 locations in Oregon and Washington were closed, company spokesman Chris Arnold told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

On Saturday, the Chipotle at 1948 S.W. Broadway in Portland posted a sign on the front door informing customers that the restaurant was closed due to “a supply chain issue.”

“We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems,” Arnold said in a statement.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve had some chance encounters with Chris Arnold when I plied my craft at another PR agency that handles a piece of Chipotle’s grandiose media relations business, and this dude is a class act. More importantly, he gets it. (So does that other firm, actually.)

E. coli and similar bacteria is no laughing matter. And for some ill-prepared chains, it can be a death knell. For Chipotle, it’s another way to showcase its stewardship to its causes — one of them being its people.

#PRWin for the healthy meat mavens. Mazel mazel! Good things.


Publish date: November 2, 2015 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT