Chipotle, the leading Mexican fast-casual chain that is the 14th largest limited-service restaurant concept in the U.S., might have a perception problem in the wake of its E. coli scare earlier this month in the Pacific Northwest.

According to the brand consumer perception service YouGov BrandIndex, 19 percent of adults 18 and over had a more negative view of Chipotle than positive as of Monday. That’s down from 8 percent having a more positive view than negative. It’s the lowest perception score for Chipotle since the firm began tracking the brand in 2007.

In addition, 19 percent of consumers said they would consider purchasing food from Chipotle the next time they dined at a fast-casual restaurant, down from 24 percent prior to the E. coli outbreak. YouGov reports that is the lowest purchase consideration for Chipotle since 15 percent of consumers reported the same after its pork supplier issue earlier this year.

Forty-three Chipotle locations in the Seattle and Portland, Oregon, areas were closed after several customers fell ill from the E. coli bacteria. The bacteria was traced to 11 units, but Chipotle closed and sanitized 43 out of an abundance of caution.

“The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, in a statement. “If there are any opportunities for us to do better in any facet of our sourcing or food handling—from the farms to our restaurants—we will find them."

Chipotle has yet to find the source of the E. coli outbreak, but is implementing food safety audits in all of its 2,000 restaurants to ensure there is no further risk. Health officials concluded there is no ongoing threat from Chipotle’s food.

By Sam Oches

Fast Casual, Food Safety, News, Chipotle