Chipotle agrees to pay record $25M fine over tainted food

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., agreed Tuesday to pay a record $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges that the restaurant served tainted food that sickened more than 1,100 people over a three-year period, federal prosecutors said.

According to a news release Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Newport Beach, California-based company was charged in Los Angeles Federal Court with two counts of violating the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by "serving adulterated food that sickened diners at its restaurant with norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps."

According to the Justice Department, more than 1,100 people were sickened between 2015 and 2018.

Chipotle agreed to a three-year, deferred prosecution agreement, the news release said. That will allow the company to avoid conviction if it complies with an improved food safety program.

The $25 million fine was the largest levied in a food safety case, the Justice Department said.

"This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the food services industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food safety policies," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt, of the Department of Justice's Civil Division, said in the news release. "The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce food safety laws in order to protect public health."

Nick Hanna, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said Chipotle failed to ensure its workers understood and complied with food safety protocols.

"Today's steep penalty, coupled with the tens of millions of dollars Chipotle already has spent to upgrade its food safety program since 2015, should result in greater protections for Chipotle customers and remind others in the industry to review and improve their own health and safety practices," Hanna said in the news release.

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