“Is this your first time?”

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That’s normally a question we’re asking customers we don’t recognize. Last night it was the question I was asked by a state epidemiologist I’d called to learn more about a Salmonela outbreak in Massachusetts.

We learned late Friday that there is a Salmonela outbreak in Massachusetts. Some of the confirmed cases ate at Clover over the course of the days leading up to their illness. Of course, the idea that somebody could have become sick eating our food is shocking, and very concerning. The state told me they don’t know yet where the Salmonela is coming from and are currently investigating.

This is something we take very seriously. Clover has never been responsible for any food poisoning or food borne illness that we know of. That’s because we operate clean and take this sort of thing really really seriously.

My first thought was to stop serving eggs until we learn more. The epidemiologist with the state  helped me understand that Salmonela can come from a product we were serving (e.g., eggs, chicken, etc.) or it can come from an employee who was carrying the disease. We have a strict sickness policy (if you’re sick you need to let us know immediately and not work). And I have faith that our employees are really great people and communicate honestly with us about illness because they know we have their best interest at heart and will not punish them for being sick. But apparently people can carry Salmonela and be asymptomatic.

Knowing that, and not knowing much else we decided to close all operations this weekend as a precaution until we learn more. The most recent case they know about was from 6/27/13. We don’t want even the chance to creating illness, so we thought it best to close our operations until we know more. As a precaution the management team is scouring every surface of every operation. We sanitize surfaces throughout the day and clean every location thoroughly a couple times a day. But we’re taking this chance to do a super deep spring cleaning of everything. It’s been a good bonding experience.

We are examining our ingredients and suppliers. All appropriate Clover employees are being tested for Salmonela. Every day Clover food is tasted by location managers before being served, and we don’t know of any Clover managers who got sick.

Right now I really don’t know much. I’ve asked the state to share any details with us as their investigation proceeds. We’ll keep you updated. We’re going to be extra careful and we’re not opening any location until we learn more.

Sorry everybody. We’re looking forward to re-opening when we learn more.

35 Responses to “Is this your first time?”

  1. Ashley 14 July, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    As I walked up to the Burlington Location this morning, excited I was about to make it to breakfast (that NEVER happens), I saw the sign. Damn, my partner and I thought. We guessed that it was the HVAC system, and were glad y’all weren’t making people try to work through that sort of thing. Then got home (…. much later) and found this.

    Thank you. Thank you for being willing to take aggressive action on this sort of thing, and thanks for being open about it. This is why we continue to eat at Clover– because we trust you guys to feed us. Some people don’t think about that very hard, and just sort of give that trust away easily. We don’t. I worked in food service in college, he has a public health background. We don’t give that trust easily. We walk out of places with dirty kitchens.

    We appreciate the open kitchens. We appreciate that one of the benefits of not serving meat is a decreased risk of the more concerning errors (cross contamination, serving raw things, etc). We appreciate the openness and honesty about challenges like this.

    This is just another reason we trust Clover. Thank you for being worthy of our trust.

  2. sara f. 15 July, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    transparency at its best. we love you, clover!

  3. Martha 15 July, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Like Ashley, I also trust Clover’s kitchen practices. One question, though – other than “not being punished for being sick,” just wondering whether your staff has paid sick time. Thanks.

  4. Kate 15 July, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    It is possible for an employee to spread this even before they are symptomatic, or to be a resistant carrier (typhoid mary). That said, if you are doing it all right, there really isn’t anything you can do about it – it probably isn’t your practices but a tainted source.

    I’m a zealot about these things, personally, but I’m an epidemiologist too and know that there are many different vectors for these things.

  5. John 15 July, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Thanks for taking the responsible steps. I love Clover and I look forward to your continued growth after this is resolved.

  6. Brianna 15 July, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    My boyfriend and our friend at at the HSQ location on 6/30 and were both extremely sick for 4-5 days during that week.

  7. William in Cambridge 15 July, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I eat at the Inman location almost daily. I have no problem continuing this once you reopen. I am pretty anal about food preperation and I can honestly say I have never seen any issues to make me concerned about cleanliness. During every visit their is someone tending to a piece of equipment to make sure things are going correctly.

    I will be back :)

  8. Sarah 15 July, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    I agree with Ashley. I like preparing my food because I know where it’s coming from and I know how it’s treated and handled. That being said, Clover is one of the few places I trust and will eat at on a regular basis. I appreciate the proactive approach you’re taking and the honesty that you’re putting forth regarding this. Most people would try to brush it off – putting the emphasis on the fact that it is a Massachusetts outbreak.

    Thanks for letting us know – we’ll be sure to make up for the lost business.

  9. Chris Patti 15 July, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Absolutely. Kudos to you guys for putting the safety of the public over your bottom line. The rest of American enterprise should take lessons :)

  10. Alg 15 July, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    You say you “have a strict sickness policy (if you’re sick you need to let us know immediately and not work)”.

    Does that mean you give *paid* sick leave to your employees? Or does it mean that those who aren’t feeling well have to stay home and then not have any income?

    If it’s the no income sick leave, that could sure induce those who aren’t feeling well to stay quiet about it and still come to work.

  11. Kristen 15 July, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I echo what Ashley said above – the reason so many of us support Clover is this honest approach to food, its employees, and to the community as a whole. Thank you for being transparent & responsive!

    I further commend the efforts taken by the CSA partners to arrange for alternate pick-ups due to the temp. closure of the brick & mortar stores. Looking forward to eating with you again real soon.

  12. Emily 15 July, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Hi guys-

    I ate an egg and eggplant sandwich and the carrot salad on Wednesday 7/10 at the Dewey truck. About an hour or so after eating it I became very sick, and was sick until Saturday with symptoms of food poisoning. I love Clover and don’t blame you guys. Just want to be of some help in potentially locating the issue.

    Hope it gets resolved.
    Emily

  13. Amanda 15 July, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I too would love to know whether your staff get paid sick time.

  14. Ken G. 15 July, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    The Carleton Street location is conveniently located outside MIT Medical. :) But I doubt Clover is responsible for these cases. WTG for making sure!

  15. Sara 15 July, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Sorry this happened to you. Even the most diligent places can get hit with an opportunistic bug.

    Which Clover is it? A bunch of them?

  16. Ed 15 July, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    Kudos to you Clover. And that is all that should be said. This company is going well above and beyond to ensure its customers are safe!

  17. Beth 15 July, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    I miss my Brookline Village friends and food and can’t wait for you to be back,

  18. AMM 15 July, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    My God. What is with all of you people asking if people get paid sick leave? I’m assuming that none of you understand the costs of running a small business. I have nothing to do with this company and have never eaten here but I respect anyone that can open and run a successful business. It’s funny that a post about Salmonella will bring out the crunchy OWS hate “rich people” crowd. Why don’t you try to run a small business before you run your mouths?

  19. Christopher 16 July, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    I appreciate this honesty.

    Some questions I have (which are likely echoed by other customers):

    1.) Was it completely your decision to close or were you asked by health officials?

    2.) Curious about paid sick time..

    3.) I like the policy about tasting food, and I am sure you have quality managers, but it is important to take into consideration that though something may be required in the books, it may not be happening in practice. Is this something to worry about?

    4.) Perhaps the source is in the transportation of food? How often is your “re-supply” vehicle cleaned? This is something I’ve thought to myself about food trucks in general.

    I think its great this little community is pitching together to try and get you back running (ASAP!). Kindly respond to these questions.

  20. Amanda 16 July, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    AMM, that’s a remarkably uncivil response to some legitimate questions. No one here is spouting hate or running their mouths except perhaps you. It’s not unreasonable to ask an organization committed to transparency a little question about their employee benefits. How best to balance the need for small businesses to survive and make a profit and the need for employees to have stable employment with sufficient benefits for their own safety and survival is a question that many thoughtful people struggle with regularly – and I assume the owners of Clover do, too. Most of us don’t go around vilifying everyone who has the gall talk about that question, though.

    Moderators, I’m disappointed that such a rude, aggressive comment got approved. Everyone else here has been completely polite and thoughtful in their responses.

  21. Ashley 16 July, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    AMM: The issue is not, strictly, that we want every single Clover employee to have very expensive benefits (although, obviously it would be nice for them if that was feasible). I have been employed in a situation in which a) I was not paid if I was sick and b)If I was sick too often, I would get fired. I can tell you that I worked through all sorts of sickness (although usually not communicable, and at that time I did not work in person with clients/customers/the public). Now, it’s *great* that Clover doesn’t punish people for being sick, and that will make people who feel truly awful much more likely to take a sick day that everyone needs them to take. But if someone only feels a little off, and no one is going to notice they’re feeling poorly other than them, and they’re worried they can’t make rent unless they show up…… They might show up anyway, even though they know they’re sick, even though they know they’re not supposed to, even though they might get someone else sick. That is an important (and unfortunate) reality in our food supply system. Seriously, I want the people making my food to be some of the people with the best freaking healthcare in the country, because it benefits me very directly, and that is… unlikely to happen, ever, under any reality-based-system.

    Now, the solution to that problem is not for Clover to suddenly grant all employees unlimited sick days. But it does mean that if business booms, and Clover considers giving some sort of benefits to employees rather than just a straight up raise, that a couple of paid sick days or flex days might be the thing they should choose first, because it might give the greatest benefit to company and workers simultaneously.

  22. Maria 16 July, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    AMM – though I understand the point you’re trying to make, I read everyone else’s comments as being concerned that employees are coming to work sick because they don’t have the financial ability to skip work and lose income for those hours. I don’t think that concern is unreasonable. Perhaps part of the costs associated with running a small business should be some sort of financial protection for sick employees.

    It seems that Clover employees are told that they are not “punished” for calling out sick, but I wonder how many of them are making enough money that they can take the day off without pay.

    Restaurant Opportunities Center United is working towards paid sick leave for all food service employees – accruing at one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours of work. There’s more information about it here: http://rocunited.org/healthy-families-act-hfa/. I wonder if that would be a solution that Clover would consider.

  23. Alastair 16 July, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I admire your transparency.

    For those asking about sick days, this is what is in the handbook (also published):

    “SICK DAYS
    We’re determined not to ever get a customer sick. So when you’re feeling sick it’s your
    responsibility to let your manager know ASAP. Even if it’s just a sniffle we want to know. We will work with you to make sure you get as many hours as you want, but that you’re not working with food when you’re sick.”

  24. SarahD 17 July, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    As a current retail employee and former restaurant employee, I can tell those concerned about paid sick days that, though we would love it to improve, that is just not practice in non-salaried retail & food service positions. The positive that I take from Clover’s policy is that the sick employee is not under threat of termination or decreased shifts if they call out sick, which is unfortunately the practice in many food service establishments, from fast food to fine dining.
    Years ago, I worked at an upscale restaurant in Back Bay. When I called the manager personally to inform that I was very sick and shouldn’t work that night’s dinner service, I was told to take all the meds I could, wear plenty of makeup to cover my pallor and avoid coughing directly on the diners, but that if I chose to not work sick, I could expect to be scheduled for only lunch shifts going forward. This restaurant is still going strong over ten years later and I have no reason to believe that they’ve changed their practices.
    My point is that most food service (& retail) employees will gladly accept being able to take unpaid sick days safely without the threat of retribution rather than the alternative, which is far too common elsewhere.
    All that said, I’m pleasantly surprised by Clover’s actions in this situation and can’t name another company that would shut down the operation of an entire chain for the health & safety of its customers and employees. I look forward to the reopenings. And good luck.

  25. Susan 17 July, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    I went to the Common to get an egg and eggplant sandwich, the delight of my week, and you weren’t there! I miss you!!! You’re one of the few intelligent choices for a meal in Boston. Please please come back soon!!

  26. Justin 18 July, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    “Clover has never been responsible for any food poisoning or food borne illness that we know of.”

    Aw jeez, well my friend and his fiance must not have reported about their food sickness 2 summers ago after eating at your Harvard location (one from the chickpea fritter, the other from I believe the eggplant). Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s worth noting that this is a continuing problem

  27. Brandon 19 July, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Ayr,

    First my wife Ash and I love your place. We’ve been eating at Clover since the start and have never had a bad experience.

    I applaud your credo to keep the food local and fresh without preservatives. But sometimes you have to bow to physics, biology, and common sense. I urge you to consider changing some aspects of the business for the health of your customers.

    For instance we have been picking up farm shares from your HUB for going on two years now. We love it. But the method in which the shares are kept unrefridgerated in your main serving area open to the sky is bananas. Last year when they were kept in the basement without cold prep it seemed substandard but workable; however, upstairs in the summer is just nuts.

    If what the Boston Globe is writing about you concerning pride in having no freezers or cold storage is true and I hope it is not. Then I think you need to think about embracing some necessary compromises in your manifesto with regard to storage and preparation. One is that cold or ice should not be considered an additive preservative. Unless you’ve decided to dig out a root cellar under every store you need to have some serious cold storage to improve the quality of your perishable goods. You except technology operating in many other aspects of your business, embrace freezers. If only to quickly stabilize the temperature of foods that are basically agar for bacterial propagation and to improve the quality of CSA deliverables.

    We want to come back and enjoy the amazing food and know that you guys have the health and well being of the community in mind. But please don’t consider using cold as an affront to your personal understanding of what makes for safe and wholesome food.

    Good luck buddy and we really hope you guys come through this a better, safer, and stronger Clover. We’re pulling for you.

    Cheers,
    B.

  28. ayr 19 July, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    That article you’re talking about was really badly written.

    Of course we use modern conveniences like refrigerators. What we don’t do is freeze food. It’s not necessary and hurts food quality.

    Thanks again!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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