December 7, 2016

Boston College Norovirus Associated with Chipotle Hits 120

The Massachusetts Department of Health has released a statement about the food poisoning outbreak at Boston College, believed to be associated with the Chipotle restaurant at Cleveland Circle. “Initial testing conducted by the State Public Health has shown the presence of norovirus,” the statement reads.

NorovirusNow at least 120 students are sick in that outbreak, which was not an E. coli outbreak, as was originally feared. Boston College released another statement to its community, confirming that the outbreak was norovirus and offering information to the students and staff. At least 80 of the sickened students confirmed that they did eat at the Chipotle restaurant at Cleveland Circle.

The Chipotle restaurant in question was closed after the reports of illness started to come in. A City of Boston inspection report revealed that there were three critical violations of the state health code at that location. Chicken on the service line was held at 128°F and steak was held at 124°F. Proper hot holding temperatures musts be at 140°F or higher. The chicken was used to make burritos, tacos, and other dishes, as was the steak. In addition, and probably most importantly, the second violation states that a sick employee was working on Thursday.

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Because of the reports of illness from that location, the city noted the third violation: “this poses an imminent health hazard and the establishment has been temporarily closed until further notice.” After these occasions, restaurants are usually deep cleaned and sanitized, and food is discarded.

This outbreak is different from the E. coli O26 outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants across the country that has sickened at least 52 people in 9 states. Chipotle also had a norovirus outbreak in September 2015 in Simi Valley, California that sickened almost 100 people.

Norovirus is extremely contagious and is easily passed from person to person. Boston College is cleaning all common-touch surfaces in public spaces. All dining locations have stopped self-service, such as salad bars, as of noon as a precaution. They recommend that anyone who is ill should drink fluids, avoid public spaces, and seek help from a doctor if needed. Students living on campus will be able to get pre-packaged foods through Dining Services.

The symptoms of norovirus include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms appear very quickly, usually within a few hours of exposure to the virus. Most people recover on their own, but some do become dehydrated and need to be hospitalized. There is no information on whether or not any students have been hospitalized in this particular outbreak.

People who are sickened with norovirus shed billions of viruses in their vomit and feces. If they have not washed their hands scrupulously after using the bathroom or after being sick, they can easily transfer the virus to other surfaces, to other people, or to food and drink. That’s why anyone who is sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea should never prepare or serve food to others, and should stay home away from the public.

Comments

  1. Denise Baxter says:

    As a food service professional knowledgeable of food safety and sanitation (ServSafe Certified Instructor and Proctor), I am not surprised that an outbreak had not occurred earlier. Too few people understand the definition of an “outbreak”, i.e. two or more people, eating the same food, that have been clinically tested to have a specific bacteria that causes the food borne illness. The general public waves off a case of diarrhea and/or vomiting as a “24 hour bug”. I have eaten at the Chipotle west of Tyson’s Corner on two separate occasions and experienced a case of abdominal pains and diarrhea after two-three hours of consuming the burrito bowl. Twice burned, I no longer eat at a Chipotle. After these experiences, I concluded that Chipotle employees are not following proper personal hygiene procedures as well as not adhering to the time/temperature rules to prevent bacteria from growing. Hot food is meant to be served “hot”, i.e. held at 135 deg F. or higher as well as “cooked” to a minimum internal temperature of 165 deg. Cold food is meant to be served “cold”, i.e. held at 41 deg. F or below. I have never felt that the “hot” food at Chipotle was actually “hot”, then when mixed with “cold” items that may or may not be held at 41 deg. or below, you now have a “danger zone” disaster that erupts in your intestinal tract.
    This is my personal, professional opinion. Until Chipotle shares with the public the changes they are making in the “Flow of Food” not just from “purchasing” but receiving, storing, preparation, cooking, holding, cooling, reheating and serving, I have no intention of dining at a Chipotle.

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