Chipotle skipped lunch Monday so its 50,000 employees in the U.S. could watch a food-safety presentation. The company, which makes much of its commitment to fresh ingredients, has been humiliated by a recent food-poisoning outbreak that led to collapses in both its sales and shares.

This raises the question of whether the hygienic reforms the company is putting in place – including preparing many products at centralized commissaries rather than in each store’s kitchen, and blanching vegetables in hot water – will undermine Chipotle’s motto of providing “food with integrity.”

It shouldn’t. In fact, these sorts of reforms should be considered not just by rival restaurants, but also by school lunch programs – and, indeed, by anyone whipping up feasts at home.

One of the most encouraging trends in American eating habits has been the emphasis on “farm-to-table” cooking. But many fresh, locally sourced foods carry unique risks. Pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria can thrive in raw vegetables, as evinced by recalls in recent years of cantaloupes, cucumbers, lettuce and sprouts.

“Processed” food is not de facto unhealthy. The pasteurization of dairy products, pressure-cooking of canned goods and irradiation of vegetables are all safe and proven to help eliminate bacteria and parasites.

Chipotle squandered good will with a lackluster response to locating the sources of the recent outbreaks, which has led to a federal criminal probe.

But in rethinking the way it prepares food, the company deserves some credit. (So, too, for announcing it will spend millions to help its suppliers maintain safety standards.) These are lessons in food safety neither Chipotle’s competitors nor its customers can ignore.


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