third-party validation

Props to Chipotle for Cooking Up Real Food Safety

Chipotle took a hit for slacking food safety procedures that resulted in sick customers, but now the company has responded with food safety steps that are significant and verifiable, which should ease concerns for patrons who have stayed away.

Chipotle took a hit for slacking food safety procedures that resulted in sick customers, but now the company has responded with food safety steps that are significant and verifiable, which should ease concerns for patrons who have stayed away.

We chopped Chipotle for mishandling a food safety crisis that sickened customers. Now it's time to give the Mexican fast food chain props for taking savvy steps to rebuild its reputation for "making better food accessible to everyone.”

In full-page print ads, Chipotle Founder and Co-CEO Steve Ells owns the crisis as he lays out specific ways the company will sharply improve its food handling practices. 

“In 2015, we failed to live up to our own food safety standards, and in so doing, we let our customers down. At that time, I made a promise to all of our customers that we would elevate our food safety program.”

The ad lists eight “important advancements” that include improving supply chain food handling, employing new technology in prepping food, training farmers to meet stricter food safety requirements and improved in-store food handling procedures.

The list goes further, citing actions that crisis counselors often recommend – credible, validated third-party evaluations and inspections.

Ells says Chipotle managers and field leaders will need certification from a nationally recognized institution, which he added is a “first for any national restaurant chain.”

Restaurant inspections will “dramatically increase,” conducted by both Chipotle inspection teams and independent auditors.

Chipotle will implement an advanced electronic tracking system to monitor food sources and be able to trace supplies that should be removed or not accepted.

Chipotle will also create an advisory council comprised of industry experts charged with “continually reviewing procedures and providing insight into new food safety advancements.” An unsolicited suggestion, expand the advisory committee to include an online panel of Chipotle consumers and listen to their concerns, praise and ideas. 

It wasn’t that long ago that Chipotle’s sharpest critics suggested scrapping the brand and starting over. Instead, Ells chose the path of weathering the storm, which has included a significant drop-off in business, and emerging with a redoubled commitment to food safety. The ads are in effect the coming out party for the Chipotle brand and its new standards.

The actions Ells laid out aren’t flashy, but they respond directly to consumer questions (and fears) about the fresh food Chipotle serves. Maybe the chain should have figured out sooner that fresh fast food has higher risks than processed food. Chipotle’s response, at least as described, appears genuine and likely to be effective in reassuring wary customers to return.

With the painful lesson that fresh food demands greater vigilance now learned, Chipotle can embark on being the brand that leads the way on both. If it does, Chipotle will have converted its crisis into an opportunity to become better than before.

The Battle for Trust

To win public issues and policy debates, you need more than good facts. You need to battle for trust to win over supporters and overwhelm opponents.Issue managers must do more than dispense facts. They must battle for trust.

Widespread skepticism is one of the biggest handicaps in trying to manage a public issue. You may have all the facts and figures, but if neighbors, community activists and even policymakers don't believe they are true, you are nowhere. 

There is no formula for building trust, but there are some tried and true principles in the battle for trust. Here are some of them: 

Tell Your Story — the Whole Story

You need to tell your story, but you gain credibility by telling the whole story. Better to hear it all — good and bad — from you than from your opponents.

Telling the whole story won't automatically build trust, but it establishes you are trustworthy, which is a very good beginning in the battle for trust.

Be Proactive, Don't Wait

3rd Party Validation as Game-Changer

Whether it is an independent odor monitor or a credible publication, third-party validation of your facts can be a critical key in managing an issue or telling your story.

If you face a dispute over your claims, trying to talk louder than your critics won't cut it. Your opponents will win that game. However, you can claim the high ground by generating independent facts that substantiate what you say.

A good example is the decision by Washington County to retain an odor consultant to monitor emissions from Recology's controversial compost yard next to North Plains. Recology has routinely taken odor measurements on or around its composting facility, but those results get buried by waves of neighbor complaints — even if some of the complaints are part of a campaign to get rid of the composting yard. 

Third-party data from an independent source doesn't guarantee success, but it can move the conversation to a different, more fact-based plane. The discussion is no longer about how many complaints have been filed but on what measurements say about the intensity and quality of the odors.

It is wrong to think of credible third parties as only technical consultants. Highly respected publications can provide third-party testimonials by covering your story.

Damaso Rodriguez, incoming artistic director at the Portland-based Artists Repertory Theatre, recalled for a group of supporters this week how his edgy theater startup in Chicago became a hot ticket because of a favorable review in the Chicago Tribune. “We were a new theater and this was our first play," Rodriguez said, "but after the review we never had to worry about filling all our seats."