The FDA is investigating the E. coli O26 outbreak at Chipotle restaurants in Washington state and Oregon. As of November 12, 2015, 50 people have been sickened in those states after eating at the restaurant chain. Fourteen people have been hospitalized. There have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and no deaths in this outbreak to date.
One outbreak strain of E. coli O26 has been included in this outbreak investigation. Thirty-three isolates from ill persons in Washington and Oregon have been uploaded to the CDC PulseNet database. All 33 people have been infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli O26, which means they were all sickened at the same place or by the same source.
All of the Chipotle restaurants that were voluntarily closed after this outbreak have reopened. The FDA and county health departments in both states have collected 72 product samples, which all tested negative.
Noted food safety attorney Fred Pritzker said, “we will see if the changes put in place by Chipotle make a difference in the safety of their customers. There have been three food poisoning outbreaks linked to that chain this year, and I hope we do not see more.”
The chain has reopened all of its restaurants that were closed after the outbreak. They confirmed that all texting performed by the company shows no E. coli. They confirmed that no employees were sickened in this outbreak. All fresh produce, raw meat, and dairy items are tested before the restaurants are restocked. Chipotle will implement additional safety procedures and work closely with government officials to make sure that robust food safety standards are in place. All ingredients in the closed restaurants will be replaced, and deep cleaning and sanitizing all of the restaurants nationwide will be done.
While testing product is a good idea, bacteria can be isolated in small clumps on products. Testing can never find all of the pathogenic bacteria on foods or surfaces that can make people sick. These measures may help reduce the risk of a food poisoning outbreak, but there are no guarantees that food is safe.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody and/or watery, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Most people recover on their own, but some become so sick they have to be hospitalized.
In some cases, particularly young children and those who have chronic illnesses, E. coli can progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that can cause kidney failure and death. The symptoms of HUS include pale skin, abdominal pain, irritability, bleeding from the nose and mouth, lethargy, little to no urine output, easy bruising, and a skin rash. If anyone exhibits these symptoms they should see a doctor immediately.