As an E. coli outbreak linked to its stores in the Pacific Northwest unfolds, Chipotle has released a statement about its response and hired food safety consultants to help it avoid similar problems in the future. The E.coil outbreak, which has sickened 37 people in Washington and Oregon, comes just two months after a Salmonella outbreak linked to its Minnesota stores sickened 64 people.
In a press release issued yesterday, Chipotle Mexican Grill listed the actions it has taken since the outbreak was discovered which include: closing all 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington even though illnesses were only associated with eight of them, conducting environmental and food testing in its restaurants and distribution centers in addition to tests being conducted by health department officials, conducting additional deep cleaning and sanitization of all locations in those states, replacing all food items in all 43 locations, and batch testing some ingredients before resupplying.
“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. “We work with a number of very fresh ingredients in order to serve our customers the highest-quality, best-tasting food we can. If there are opportunities to do better, we will push ourselves to find them and enhance our already high standards for food safety. Our deepest sympathies go out to those who have been affected by this situation and it is our greatest priority to ensure the safety of all of the food we serve and maintain our customers’ confidence in eating at Chipotle.”
The FDA and the CDC have joined state and local officials in the investigation of the E. coli outbreak associated with meals served between October 14 and October 23. Health officials say produce items are among the suspects including lettuce, onions, avocados, cilantro, onions, peppers and other ingredients in salsa.
On Monday, a lawsuit was filed by on behalf of Washington woman who ate a burrito bowl from a Vancouver location on October 21. She began experiencing symptoms of and E.coli infection, which include abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can be bloody, about three days later.
The plaintiff is one of 25 people in Washington who developed E. coli infections after eating at Chipotle, 11 cases have been reported in Clark County, two in Cowlitz County, two in Island County, six in King County and four in Skagit County. In Oregon, where 12 cases have been reported from Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Deschutes, Multnomah, and Washington counties, health officials have identified E. coli O26 as one of the outbreak strains.
Like, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O26 can produce shiga toxins that cause serious illness by damaging red blood cells. The toxins can trigger complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which leads to kidney failure. HUS can also cause seizure, stroke, coma and death. In 2012, an E. coli O26 outbreak that sickened 29 people in 11 states was linked to clover sprouts served at Jimmy Johns restaurants. Seven people were hospitalized.
While health officials track the source of this outbreak, they say it is important for anyone who ate a Chipotle in Washington or Oregon and has developed symptoms to see a doctor. If you have diarrhea lasting for more than three days, or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and you pass very little urine, a doctor’s visit is crucial.