An E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle stores in Washington and Oregon has grown to include 42 people, 14 of whom have been hospitalized. Now, the chain says it’s ready to reopen the 43 stores in those states that it temporarily closed after the outbreak.
State health officials linked 11 Chipotle restaurants, including six restaurants in Oregon and five in Washington to the outbreak. But the company voluntarily closed all of them on a temporary basis.
As of November 9, 27 people in Washington and 15 in Oregon have been diagnosed with infections from shiga-toxin producing E. coli O26 in food that came from a handful of Chipotle stores. All of them ate at a Chipotle in Washington or Oregon in the week before becoming ill.
The case patients, who range in age from 1 to 67, ate at a number of different locations. Investigators are still trying to determine which ingredient was contaminated. Health officials say produce items are among the suspects.
DNA tests have been completed on samples collected from 23 of the patients and all of them match. Curiously, so does one case in Minnesota. That person did not eat at a Chipotle in Oregon or Washington before becoming ill. At this time, health officials don’t think the case is related to the outbreak in Oregon and Washington. The investigation in Minnesota is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Chipotle announced today that it will be reopening restaurants in Washington and Oregon this week. All of them have been deep-cleaned, sanitized and supplied with all new ingredients. The company says none of its employees in Washington or Oregon had E. coli infections, an indicator that food was contaminated before it entered the restaurants.
Chipotle says it has tested all fresh produce, raw meat, and dairy items prior to restocking restaurants. And will now conduct enhanced testing of produce and fresh meat. The company says it has received results of 900 tests for E. coli on samples form restaurant equipment and surfaces and all of them were negative.
Going forward the company will implement new food safety procedures at all of its locations. The company has retained two food safety scientists to help assess and improve its food safety standards.
Health officials have not yet determined the contaminated food source. Tests have been performed on a number of food items.
“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. “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. We are sorry to those affected by this situation, and it is our greatest priority to ensure that we go above and beyond to make certain that we find any opportunity to do better in any area of food safety.”