Two years ago, fans of the fast-food chain Chipotle found themselves locked out. That’s because several Chipotle locations were forced to shut down after a major food E. coli outbreak. The outbreak not only caused many customers to fall ill but also had a huge impact on Chipotle’s earnings and reputation. Indeed, Chipotle, which had gained points for doing fast food fresh, suffered two contaminations in two months.  The closures, lost revenue, and brand damage were a warning to other service industry providers that failing to properly train and monitor workers can and does come at a very high price. Until recently, it seemed that the chain had recovered. Then, in late July, reports circulated that Chipotle had closed another restaurant in Virginia after several customers fell ill. Once again, the company’s stocks immediately took a huge nosedive.

Cross-Contamination Problems

Cross contamination happens in restaurants and other food preparation centers when juices from raw meat or germs on utensils travel to fresh food items. At the time of the 2015 outbreak at Chipotle, the culprit was likely a mix of ingredients, including fresh vegetables.  At the time of the outbreak, a press release issued by the company, reported, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 37 confirmed cases in Washington and Oregon.

Following the two outbreaks of E.coli, the chain started to prepare foods off site, submerge all of its lemons, limes, onions and avocados in boiling water and to take other key precautions (e.g., heightened hand washing). The company also poured increased money into training. While the recent problems in Virginia were not confirmed to be caused by E.coli, the company remains under intense scrutiny.

Training for Service Industry Workers is Essential

To be fair, offering high-quality training in the service sector is never easy. For many employees, a service industry job is their very first. The service industry also has extremely high turnover rates, which means restaurants must be constantly training new employees.  Other issues, such as low compensation rates, are also a factor. With most service employees making minimum wage, engaging employees in training is even a greater challenge. Despite these challenges, however, it is critical to prioritize service industry training. As the Chipotle case reveals, ignoring training has a high cost both in terms of health and stock values.

To be fair, Chipotle is not alone when it comes to battling food safety lapses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 48 million cases of food-related illness in the U.S. annually, including 265,000 cases of E. coli.

eLeaP’s Observation Checklist Can Support Training

If you manage a restaurant, whether its a franchise or independent entity, whatever your organization’s size (five employees or five hundred), eLeaP’s learning management system (LMS) can help you scale up your food safety training. eLeaP’s new Observation Checklist are a great way to get started with service industry training.

Observation checklists allow you to observe and document the progress of learners and team members. They are a consistent and simple way to improve skills and documentation. By using eLeaP’s observation checklist, you several supervisors can share assessments of employees; accumulate longitudinal data on employees and their progress; and assign essential training courses to respond to employee’s deficits. For example, if you have an employee who consistently fails to wash their hands between clients, this can be recorded and a hand washing refresher course can be assigned.  Likewise, if you discover that your employees are not properly handling raw foods, especially meat, or engaging in practices that may result in cross-contamination, you can automatically issue training recommend additional training courses and track their progress. Restaurants and other food service providers can also use checklist to train employees to follow all local health guidelines, which in many municipalities can be difficult to follow and monitor. Indeed, while it may not seem dangerous, in many municipalities, simply failing to cover on one’s lemon slices on a bar can result in an infraction and lower one’s over all grade.