Chipotle ramps up media relations efforts amid widening E. coli fears

The restaurant's stock price has lost a third of its value since mid-October.

DENVER: Chipotle Mexican Grill is ratcheting up its media relations efforts amid a new investigation into E. coli cases linked to its restaurants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating another E. coli outbreak in Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, which is not connected to the October outbreak that led to the temporary closure of 43 Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, the CDC said.

The health scares have hurt the chain’s share price, which was down another 4% on Tuesday and has lost a third of its value since mid-October.

Chipotle comms director Chris Arnold explained that the company has spoken more often with the press in the last week, most notably the Associated Press, about the steps it is taking to mitigate the risks of food-borne illness.

"The plan we are putting in place will eliminate risk or mitigate to a level as near zero as possible," said Arnold. "Our highest priority right now is getting that plan fully implemented."

The chain has also placed ads in more than 60 newspapers around the country in the past week, highlighting some components of that strategy, he added.

Last Wednesday, Chipotle also posted a letter from co-CEO and founder Steve Ells about the food-safety initiative to its website and linked to it on the chain’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Earlier this month, shares of Chipotle briefly bounced back after Ells apologized in an NBC interview to all customers who fell ill after eating in its restaurants and promised to enforce strict food-safety practices.

Apart from E. coli, norovirus has also affected dozens of Chipotle customers in Boston – most visibly the Boston College men’s basketball team – in the past month.

Chipotle continues to update an FAQ page, set up in November, with news pertaining to the crisis. The portal was last updated on Monday.

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