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Chipotle closing all restaurants for one day

Chipotle Mexican Grill will temporarily close all of its restaurants for several hours Feb. 8 to discuss new changes in the company’s food safety procedures.

The company has been plagued with food-borne illness outbreaks. Hundreds have been sickened by the company’s recent E. coli, norovirus and salmonella outbreaks.

Chipotle also will use the time to check in with employees and answer any questions they might have.

“We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time,” said Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman.

Chipotle has 2,000 locations, six of them locally in the Town of Tonawanda, Amherst, Niagara Falls, Cheektowaga, Williamsville and Hamburg.

The string of food scares has taken its toll on Chipotle’s bottom line. Last week, the company announced that its business was suffering more than it had anticipated. The chain had expected comparable restaurant sales (those at restaurants that have been open for at least 13 months) to fall by as much as 11 percent for the quarter ending Dec. 31, but revised the outlook, saying they are now slated to tumble by almost 15 percent. In December alone the metric fell by 30 percent.

The company’s stock rose on Friday, after what has been a precipitous, months-long decline. Chipotle shares have fallen by 40 percent since September, when they reached an all-time high.

The announcement follows what has been a difficult time for Chipotle. After years of sustained growth, and a seemingly flawless business, America’s darling fast-food company has fallen on hard times.

The crisis began last summer, when health authorities in Seattle linked a handful of illnesses to a company store in the city and almost 100 people fell ill after eating at a restaurant in California. In the fall, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon after authorities linked an E. coli outbreak to six restaurants in the region. Illnesses contracted at Chipotles were then reported in seven more states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Then in December, more than 100 students at Boston College fell ill after eating at a Chipotle, leading the company to close another restaurant. Boston health officials said the cause was norovirus, a common virus, while citing the restaurant for two health violations: improper handling of poultry and the presence of a sick employee. And the CDC announced it was investigating another E. coli outbreak that could be linked to the chain.

In all, more than 500 people fell ill in the latter part of 2015 after eating at Chipotle, according to a report by Food Safety News.

This report contains material from the Washington Post. email: schristmann@buffnews.com