The fifth-largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2015 was the E. coli outbreak linked to food served at Chipotle restaurants in nine states. At least 52 people were sickened, 20 of them were hospitalized.
The outbreak was one of several food poisoning outbreaks linked to Chipotle this year including a Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 60 people in Minnesota. The Salmonella outbreak was linked to tomatoes grown in Florida. The food source of the E. coli outbreak has not been identified.
Health officials initially thought the outbreak only involved Chipotle locations in Washington and Oregon. The company temporarily closed all locations in those states during the investigation.
During a 10-day closure, Chipotle deep-cleaned, sanitized and supplied all the locations with new ingredients. It tested all fresh produce, raw meat, and dairy items before re-stocking. The company also tested all employees for E. coli infections. No employee tests were positive for E. coli, an indicator that food was contaminated before it entered the restaurants.
Chipotle retained Seattle-based IEH Laboratories to help it identify opportunities to enhance food safety practices throughout its operations. Some of the features of the new program include: the use high-resolution testing on all fresh produce. These tests will be performed on ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants. Another feature will be “end-of-shelf-life testing where ingredient samples will be tested to ensure that quality specifications are maintained throughout the shelf life of an ingredient.”
Health officials used DNA tests to identify the fingerprint of the Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC) O26 bacteria that caused the illnesses. Whole Genome Sequencing was performed on STEC O26 isolates from 21 case patients in Washington, California, Minnesota, and New York. The results showed the isolates were highly related genetically, providing further evidence that illnesses outside the Pacific Northwest.
By state, the case count was as follows: California (3), Illinois (1), Maryland (1), Minnesota (2), New York (1), Ohio (3), Oregon (13), Pennsylvania (1), and Washington (27). The case patients range in age from 1 to 94 years old with a median age of 21. Roughly 59 percent are female.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Washington woman who developed an E. coli infection after eating at Chipotle. According to the lawsuit, the woman ordered a burrito bowl from a Vancouver location on October 21 and began experiencing symptoms of an E. coli infection, including abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea about three days later.