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Chipotle To Close All Stores on Feb. 8 For Food Safety Meeting

Beleaguered by a string of food poisoning outbreaks, Chipotle Mexican Grill will close all its stores for several hours next month to hold a food safety meeting with workers.

The meeting will take place on Feb. 8 and will include all staff at its more than 1,900 locations, said Danielle Moore, public relations and communications manager for Chipotle.

"We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing, and answer questions from employees," Moore told NBC News via email, adding that restaurants will be closed "part of the day Feb. 8."

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The news comes days after executives of the popular burrito joint said they were confident their food is now safe.

We "need to reassure our customers that this can't happen again, and that we are going to reduce the risk of this kind of an outbreak from occurring again to near zero," Chipotle founder and co-Chief Executive Steve Ells said Wednesday at the ICR Conference in Orlando, Florida, according to Reuters.

Chipotle sales and stocks have been battered since an E. coli outbreak sickened more than 50 people in nine states in October and November.

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The chain — which prides itself on serving fresh food that isn't dependent on genetically modified organisms — faces a federal criminal investigation and a lawsuit from shareholders after the recent outbreaks, which have included salmonella and norovirus in addition to E. coli.

Chipotle has vowed to work with its suppliers and employees to eliminate foodborne illness, and executives said Wednesday the company will step up its outreach to loyal customers next month to woo them back.

Clark Wolf, a food industry consultant, said shutting down all Chipotle locations for a food safety meeting is a "really smart move."

"It's the ultimate corporate reset button," he told NBC News.

Christopher Muller, a Boston University professor of hospitality management who was on the legal team in 1993 for another chain — fast food restaurant Jack In The Box, which had its own public relations crisis in that year when undercooked hamburgers infected hundreds and killed four children — said Chipotle could have gone even further.

"They might have just said, we're going to close every store and clean them top to bottom. That might have gone better," he said.

Chipotle's Ells said Wednesday that many changes have already been made to ensure food safety, including blanching onions before they're chopped to kill germs, and cutting tomatoes and lettuce in a centralized location as opposed to in individual restaurant kitchens.

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The company is still waiting for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare the E. coli outbreak over, even though the CDC hasn't identified which ingredient was to blame. Chipotle has conceded that it may never be able to pinpoint where the outbreak started.

Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung warned Wednesday that 2016 will be rocky.

"It's going to be messy in terms of margins. It's going to be messy in terms of earnings. The visibility is not going to be great," Hartung said.

Chipotle shares declined 30 percent in December, the restaurant said in a filing last week.