The FDA and the CDC have joined the investigation into the Chipotle E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 22 people who ate at locations in Washington and Oregon. The illnesses have been associated with meals served between October 14 and October 23 at restaurants in four Washington counties and two Oregon counties. Eight people have been hospitalized.
Chipotle has has temporarily closed all 43 locations in Oregon and Washington while federal, state and local health authorities search for the source. Health officials say produce items are among the suspects. That would include lettuce, onions, avocados, cilantro, onions, peppers and other ingredients in salsa. Produce is a common source of E. coli outbreaks. Contamination can happen in the growing fields or during transportation.
On Monday, a lawsuit was filed 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 19 people in Washington who developed E. coli infections after eating at Chipotle, four cases have been reported in King County, nine in Clark County, one in Cowlitz County, and five in Skagit County. In Oregon, where three cases were reported from Clackamas 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 and 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.
Just two months ago, Chipotle was linked to another large food poisoning outbreak- a Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota that sickened 64 people. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) collaborated with federal health officials on the investigation of that outbreak that affected customers at 22 of the 60 Chipotle locations in Minnesota. They determined that the source was tomatoes used to make salsa. A lawsuit filed on behalf of a customer who became ill, named the produced company as one of the defendants.
While health officials track the source of the outbreak, they say it is important for anyone who ate a Chipotle in Washington or Oregon and has developed symptoms to see a doctor especially 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.