For a long time, smug worked pretty well for Chipotle Mexican Grill. It’s grown into a chain of more than 1,900 locations, thanks in part to marketing—including short animated films about the evils of industrial agriculture—that reminds customers that its fresh ingredients and naturally raised meat are better than rivals’ and better for the world. The implication: If you eat Chipotle, you’re doing the right thing, and maybe you’re better, too. It helped the company, charging about $7 for a burrito, reach a market valuation of nearly $24 billion. Its executives seemed to have done the impossible and made a national fast-food chain feel healthy. ... Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from Chipotle food since July, according to public-health officials. And those are just the ones who went to a doctor, gave a stool sample, and were properly diagnosed. Food-safety experts say they believe with any outbreak the total number of people affected is at least 10 times the reported number. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from contaminated food every year. ... Whatever its provenance, if food is contaminated it can still make us sick—or even kill. Millennials may discriminate when they eat, but bacteria are agnostic. ... Chipotle has said it will shift more food preparation out of restaurants and into centralized kitchens—that is, it will do things more like the fast-food chains it’s long mocked. Ells’s company has always urged customers to think about its supply chain. Well, now they are. ... It has about 100 suppliers for its 64 ingredients. That doesn’t include local farms—those within 350 miles of a restaurant—which at peak season supply only 10 percent of its produce.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has sold Maggi (pronounced “MAG-ee”) in India for more than 30 years, and the brand’s ubiquity and cultural resonance on the subcontinent is something akin to Coca-Cola’s in the U.S. In 2014, Indians consumed more than 400,000 tons of the instant noodles—marketed in 10 varieties, from Thrillin’ Curry to Cuppa Mania Masala Yo!—and Maggi accounted for roughly a quarter of the company’s $1.6 billion in revenue in the country. That year Maggi was named one of India’s five most trusted brands. ... On June 5, 2015, less than a month after Khajuria’s phone rang in the middle of the night, India’s central food regulator announced a temporary ban on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of Maggi noodles. In its order the FSSAI pronounced Maggi “unsafe and hazardous for human consumption,” a designation supported by 30 government lab tests showing Nestlé’s noodles contained excess amounts of lead. ... The Maggi meltdown would prove costly. Nestlé lost at least $277 million in missed sales. Another $70 million was spent to execute one of the largest food recalls in history. Add the damage to its brand value—which one consultancy pegged at $200 million—and the total price tag for the debacle could easily be more than half a billion dollars. And the fallout continues. ... Nearly a year after the ban, Maggi noodles are back on shelves in India, but somewhat precariously so. The product’s future depends on two legal cases that are working their way through the Indian court system. Both pit Nestlé against the Indian government.
For years, enlightened restaurant-goers, shocked and horrified by Fast Food Nation, pink slime, and the evils of Big Food, have felt an almost religious pull to Chipotle’s "Food With Integrity" mission ... When a listeria outbreak caused by Dole’s packaged salads was linked to four deaths last year, the public outcry was not nearly as intense or sustained (despite an ongoing federal investigation). When Tesla reported its first driver fatality while using its Autopilot feature last June, it didn’t affect the company’s stock price at all. Why were these deaths only blips for Dole’s and Tesla’s reputations? By contrast, Chipotle spent a year in hell even though no one died—and more than 265,000 Americans get sick annually from illnesses linked to E. coli. ... Chipotle has had no choice but to grapple with the reality that its prestige status has evaporated. And there is no obvious road map for gaining it back. ... what’s ailing Chipotle is more pervasive and insidious than any foodborne illness. For Chipotle to win back all it has lost will require a soul-cleansing broader than perhaps even Ells and Moran realize. ... As Chipotle has grown, its operation has evolved to be anything but simple. The company purchases 185 million pounds of what it considers responsibly raised beef, pork, and chicken annually. ... Chipotle goes through more than 200,000 pounds of avocados daily ... The kitchen theatrics that Ells has deftly used to promote his food’s freshness to customers—the sizzling plancha, the tortilla grill—obscured that it was less safe than conventional fast food. The company had disclosed this fact to investors long before the crisis. ... Chipotle’s future hinges less on hourly audits or triple-washed lettuce or rewards programs than a reimagining of what Food With Integrity means for the next 20 years.
The overuse of antibiotics has transformed what had been a hypothetical menace into a clear and present one: superbugs, bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics. By British government estimates, about 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections worldwide. If trends continue, that number is expected to soar to 10 million a year globally by 2050—more people than currently die from cancer. ... Research has found that as much as 90 percent of the antibiotics administered to pigs pass undegraded through their urine and feces. This has a direct impact on farmed seafood. The waste from the pigpens at the Jiangmen farm flowing into the ponds, for example, exposes the fish to almost the same doses of medicine the livestock get—and that’s in addition to the antibiotics added to the water to prevent and treat aquatic disease outbreaks. The fish pond drains into a canal connected to the West River, which eventually empties into the Pearl River estuary, on which sit Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau. The estuary receives 193 metric tons (213 tons) of antibiotics a year, Chinese scientists estimated in 2013. ... distribution networks that move the seafood around the world are often as murky as the waters in which the fish are raised. Federal agencies trying to protect public health face multiple adversaries: microbes rapidly evolving to defeat antibiotics and shadowy seafood companies that quickly adapt to health regulations to circumvent them, moving dirty seafood around the world in much the same way criminal organizations launder dirty money. ... China’s rates of drug resistance remain among the highest in the world. ... harvested in China but was passed through Malaysia, where it acquired Malaysian certificates of origin. This illegal transshipping, as the maneuver is called