Chipotle Concerns? We’ve Got Answers!

There has been a lot of concern lately from both the dairy-allergic community and the wheat-allergic community over changes at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants.

Those with dairy allergies are feeling dismayed by Chipotle’s introduction of a hot queso sauce which is positioned near the various meats Chipotle offers for their burritos. As for those with wheat allergies, there is disappointment by Chipotle’s discontinuation of soft corn burrito tortillas.

Is this all true? Is there more to the story? Is Chipotle still a top option for individuals with food allergies?

We called to get the real story.

Introduction of hot queso sauce

 

Chipotle began offering queso sauce in all US locations two months ago. Due to the need to keep it hot, the sauce is, in fact, kept near the meat section of the burrito line. Clearly, a cross-contact concern between the queso and Chipotle’s various meats make sense.

Management of Chipotle, always cognizant of food allergies (as recognized by their continued strong AllergyEats ratings by diners and their recurring strong position on AllergyEats’ Annual Top 10 List of the Most Allergy-Friendly Restaurants in America), has tried to minimize this cross-contact risk by designing the burrito line layout such that the queso sauce container is closer to the behind-the-counter staff than any of the meats – thus minimizing the chance queso will drip into the meat bins (i.e. the queso ladle should never go over meat products).

For some, that may be re-assuring enough. However, management has still heard the (valid) concern that splashing could occur that would cause cross-contact. While the company believes their employees – trained to be food allergy conscious – would be cognizant about not letting this happen, I believe they understand that there is still potential risk, especially given the number of stores they have along with simple human nature and the fact that mistakes happen.

For this, they suggest that any customer who is uncomfortable in any way with receiving meats from the containers on the burrito line request that the server retrieve fresh meat off the grill. This, of course, may involve a longer wait (particularly during very busy times); however, it is certainly a workable option for those who are not in a hurry. The wait may be short or it may be long – it depends on a number of factors and may be impossible to predict in advance.

All this said, Chipotle has NOT made the decision yet to keep queso as a permanent option. They continue to evaluate feedback on the product (which I have heard some negative comments about myself, though a small sample size), so there’s still hope that this concern may eventually go away. It also might suggest that this is an optimal time for concerned individuals to email Chipotle and express their opinions.

Discontinuation of corn tortillas

 

While the introduction of queso sauce has drawn much of the attention from the food allergy community on Chipotle lately, those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergies have bemoaned the fact that it appears the company will no longer have their restaurants carry corn tortillas, leaving them with no alternatives for a burrito.

Regretfully, I have to acknowledge that this is true.

Management made the decision to discontinue soft corn tortillas because they were just not popular. (In fairness, I wonder how many people – like me – didn’t even know they existed… and if that would have made a difference or not.) On the flip side, the hard corn taco shells have been popular and will continue to be offered at all Chipotle restaurants.

The result is that those with celiac, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergies have in fact lost the opportunity to buy burritos at Chipotle. However, they can still enjoy burrito bowls and tacos containing the same meat products and add-ons.

What’s Chipotle up to next?

The truth is I don’t know, but I DO know where to get a glimpse of what they’re considering.

Chipotle has a restaurant in New York City called Chipotle Next Kitchen, which I was previously unaware of. This is where they test new products – some that will ultimately make it to the restaurants and some (maybe even most) that never will. As an example, the queso was tested here 3 months before release to all the traditional Chipotle Mexican Grills.

For those in New York or visiting New York who want to check it out, Chipotle Next Kitchen is located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan at 504 6th Avenue (at the intersection of 13th street). If I get a chance to check it out soon, I’ll report back on what I find. If any of you have a chance to hop over there, we’d love to read what you learn in our comments section. Maybe even send us pictures!

I hope this was helpful in addressing the recent concerns by many about Chipotle Mexican Grill. I always appreciate this company’s commitment to its food-allergic guests and their openness and honesty when I raise important issues from our community. I know the news is not good for those who need to avoid wheat and gluten, though at least there are still other options. As for those who can’t have dairy, I hope this information helps you make more informed decisions when considering dining at Chipotle and/or when in the restaurant.

We love to read your comments! Please share your thoughts, concerns, praises, and anything else regarding Chipotle and these changes in the Comments section below.

And as always, please rate ALL your restaurant experiences – quick serve to fine dining; good, bad, or so-so – on the AllergyEats app or website. Every new rating you add makes AllergyEats a more valuable tool for our entire community. We are all in this together!

Comments

    Author:
    Michele
    Written:


    Honestly. Fried taco shells are not healthy. Seldom are front line employees Serve Safe Certified and you say Celiac and their eyes glaze over. I’ll skip the fast food and cross contamination.

    Author:
    Ross
    Written:


    I just recently encountered this and it was actually a little traumatic. I wrote a review on the restaurants page which I have pasted below. It is really a big issue and I can only pray they get rid of the queso or move it far away.

    My Chipotle review:
    Stay away if you have a milk / Dairy allergy! The allergy cards and training are all wrong now! The new Queso has ruined everything in regards to allergen friendly eating as it splatters over everything. Luckily I saw the Queso splash on my food and into all the other ingredients – it really went far! The serve and I looked at each other in disbelief (maybe you can see this on the cameras from Friday night?). Each splash was like a stab in back since for the last few years chipotle has been one of the few restaurants and my #1 eating out option for the last 3+ years. To make it worse I waited with friends for 30+ minutes in line. The staff handled it as best they could and offered me free chips and to cook me more food but it would take 25+ more minutes. I wouldn’t blame them (except the guy who splashed it was very careless), I would blame corporate for a massive oversight in the placement of the queso. The hard cheese hasn’t been an issue because the items near it have duplicates kept separately and it doesn’t splatter. If I had been less paranoid, distracted by my phone or something, I might not have noticed and potentially could have died! I’ve already been lucky to survive several incidents where a mistake was made, and it’s been over a year since the last time. I’m now living in fear where 3 times a day, every meal, I have to be sure my food is safe. The PTSD and fear, plus the fact Chipotle was my favorite restaurant that I trusted, really was the straw that broke the camels back. This close call actually brought me to tears, All I could think is “what if?” and why does my life suck so bad. Being able to eat safely when you’re hungry is something people take for for granted. I had been assured in the past it was safe, down to changing gloves etc. I know my situation is extreme so it may be hard to understand the trauma. I think it would be wise to bring this to the attention of corporate, because if it hasn’t caused any issues yet- it will soon. All my allergy suffering friends rely on you to be the safe go – to, especially traveling. All I know is that if this outcome had been worse, and If I survived, I would have be merciless with my lawsuit. I’d rather have $0 and be safe, but if I have one more mistake at someone else’s fault I can’t even imagine the amount it would take to help me return to a normal life. Please for me, and for everyone else at risk, address this issue! I’d really love to go back some day if this gets resolved.

    Author:
    Karen
    Written:


    Sadly, my kids (both issues with gluten) only like the soft corn taco shells. They have the lost the business of this family of four.

    Author:
    Deborah
    Written:


    I replied with this on the Facebook post, but will put it here, too, you know, in case someone from Chipotle is reading. 🙂

    I wouldn’t say I’ve been concerned about whether they can still accommodate me or not, BUT I will say I haven’t been to a Chipotle since they introduced the queso and I used to go about once a week. That’s mostly because while I assume they can still make it work and give me food that’s safe, there’s now an added hassle to it. Levels of competency re: allergies really vary from one Chipotle to another, so now depending on where I go I’ll have to monitor what’s happening even more closely on the side of the line that used to be all safe food. And one of the big draws of Chipotle for me was that it was fast and relatively easy. I’m now deterred because I just don’t feel like going through the extra effort/dealing with the extra stress and explanation.

    I also want to add that I think the changes this introduction brings should compel Chipotle to up and universalize their standards for the training of their employees about allergies; some are extremely competent, but I’ve encountered others that are clueless and indignant or argumentative — to the point that I have contacted corporate to let them know.

    Author:
    Erik Williamsen
    Written:


    I’m really sad about the loss of the soft corn tortillas. This was one of the very few places I could go to get tacos since many stores had a dedicated gluten free warmer. This is sadly no longer the case. They’ve definitely lost a lot of my business and I will certainly not be going out of my way to visit their stores anymore.

    Author:
    Karen B.
    Written:


    While I have a wheat sensitivity, I had always relied on the burrito bowl at a safe option. I also have a number of food and spice allergies that make eating out impossible. Chipotle was the only place that I could count on. I started having issues intermittently, sometimes nothing, sometimes a little bit of a rash, then once was full hives and welts needing 50mg of benadryl and a breathing treatment to calm down. What I found out is that they cook their rice with bay leaf ( but it is removed before serving) and this had never been made clear. I have a pretty low tolerance and have had multiple life threatening reactions. The reaction of the server when I brought it to their attention that an entire bay leaf was left in my rice was less than understanding. I haven’t been back and now seeing that they are not taking dairy or gluten allergies into account I am even more sure that I won’t be back.

    Author:
    kt
    Written:


    In case they are reading this, I just wanted to say please keep your stores peanut and tree nut free! Currently, you are reliably nut free and a place we can eat out without any worries. This is especially important for teens and young adults to have a place they can safely eat without parents.

    But related to this current article, I hope you can hear the concerns of those with dairy and wheat allergies or intolerances as well and take steps to accommodate them. Food allergic customers are willing to spend more money and are very loyal!

    Author:
    Annelee
    Written:


    I have been very disappointed with the lack of concern over cross contamination at Chipotle. Telling the servers you have celiac makes no difference. It is apparent they have not trained their servers with allergy concerns. I was curious why someone with gluten sensitivity was concerned about ay leaves in the rice. Have never heard that bay lives contain gluten.

    Author:
    Olivia
    Written:


    Chipotle employees are always happy to accommodate my allergies, but once I realized the sofritas were kept in the back of the meat storage area, behind the chicken, I stopped routinely eating there. There’s a huge risk of an employee dropping the sofritas into another meat container, making all of them unsafe for someone with a soy allergy. I wonder if they’d be receptive to moving the sofritas bin to the front as well…

    Author:
    Louis
    Written:


    As other have said, the importance of continuing to have Chipotle be peanut, tree nut and sesame free is what I worry about when they introduce a new menu item. The food gets tiresome after a while but Chipotle is our one 100% safe place that we can count on when we go on trips (except of course One Dish when traveling through Maryland). Side note in case management is watching this blog, our local one is right next to a Five Guys and one time an employee had his lunch and brought in the peanuts from FG to accompany his employee lunch. Not cool.

    Author:
    Amanda Y
    Written:


    I enjoy the new queso (on my bowl but not with chips) but hope they put it in a safer area like down by cheese and sour cream for dairy allergy concerns. I didn’t know they had soft corn tortillas! I would love those but we’re they warned on the same surface as wheat because obviously that would make them useless. Why don’t they just switch to all corn tortillas to solve the gluten issue? Are the taco shells celiac safe? I will try them if so, I thought I could only get the bowl but I appreciate that option when on the road for work or in an airport etc.!

    Author:
    mary
    Written:


    We have celiac plus allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. Our local Chipotle advised us to NOT eat their food, because the risk of cross contact with wheat is high. They use the same utensils to place food on wheat tortillas that they use to put it in bowls. The tortillas get soggy, and pieces of wheat can get mixed into the meat and other containers. Huge bummer for us, because before the celiac diagnosis it was our go to peanut, tree nut, and sesame free place. We are down to Burton’s Grill for eating out.

    Author:
    beejust
    Written:


    I was just there yesterday (I have celiac disease), I’m curious why they don’t use tongs to pick up lettuce and cheese and why they find it necessary to pick it by hand (the same hand that just wiped the counter of debris). No wonder they are getting ill from there.

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