Chipotle Mexican Grill's recent norovirus outbreak in Virginia was the result of lax sick policy enforcement by store managers, the company confirmed on Tuesday.
It has been two years since a string of food safety incidents first battered sales and scared away diners. While the beleaguered burrito chain was able to return to profitability and its same-store sales have begun trending in a positive direction, its successes have been overshadowed by a recent series of incidents.
Chipotle's reputation took a hit last week after reports surfaced that customers were sickened bynorovirus at a location in Sterling, Virginia. Then, a few days later, a viral cellphone video was released that showed rodents falling from the ceilingat a restaurant near Dallas.
Both restaurants have addressed these issues, with the Virginia location shuttering briefly to sanitize, and the Texas restaurant sealing up the rodents' entry point.
But by that point, the damage was done. Chipotle shares have fallen nearly 12 percent since last Tuesday, when the news broke, and Chipotle's food safety policies are once again up for debate.
"If another chain had a norovirus outbreak, I am pretty sure that it would not have gained the national exposure the way that Chipotle had in this last outbreak," Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate at The Pennsylvania State University, told CNBC via email. "So yes, we are hyperaware of their issues. That being said, the entire system of retail operations should have been hyperaware of employee health issues."
The company said Tuesday in their earnings conference call that they believe an employee was the cause of the outbreak.
"We conducted a thorough investigation, and it revealed that our leadership there didn't strictly adhere to our company protocols," CEO Steve Ells said during the call.
Discussions among Reddit users had suggested that some Chipotle locations are not adhering to the company's safety guidelines.
By not following guidelines, conditions are created that would make a norovirus or similar outbreak seem "eminently predictable," Stuyvesant Square Consultancy Managing Director J.G. Collins, who writes frequently about the restaurant industry, told CNBC via email.
A self-identified Chipotle employee alleged in a Reddit post last month that a manager required them to work while sick.