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.
Now 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.
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.