The first lawsuit has been filed against Chipotle restaurants on behalf of a client who was sickened with an E. coli infection after eating at one of those facilities in Vancouver, Washington. Six of Chipotle’s restaurants in the Northwest United States have been linked to an Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) outbreak that has sickened at least 22 people in Washington state and Oregon.
Chipotle has voluntarily closed 43 of its restaurants in that region as public health officials investigate this outbreak. Chipotle restaurants have been linked to several foodborne illness outbreaks in the last several years. A Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota in August 2015 linked to Chipotle sickened at least 45 people. A 2009 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak sickened people who ate at Chipotle restaurants in Colorado, Utah, and New York; and a 2009 outbreak of Campylobacter in Minnesota was linked to Chipotle restaurants.
The plaintiff ate a burrito bowl at the restaurant on October 21, 2015. On or about October 25, 2015, she began experiencing severe diarrhea. The next day, the diarrhea became bloody. She went to her doctor on October 27, 2015, and was diagnosed with an E. coli infection.
We don’t know what the source of the pathogenic bacteria is, but officials are taking environmental samples, interviewing food workers, and testing food taken from the restaurants. Because patients ate at six of the Chipotle restaurants in the region, odds are that some food purchased from a common supplier was contaminated. We don’t know the strain of E. coli bacteria yet, but we do know it is STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli).
Chipotle is liable in this case because they manufactured, processed, marketed, served, and sold food contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria. They have a duty to customers who consume their products to sell food that is safe to eat. It is illegal to serve adulterated food or put it into interstate commerce.
The outbreak has sickened at least 22 people so far; 3 live in Oregon and 19 live in Washington state. The patients range in age from 11 to 64. Eight people have been hospitalized so far in this outbreak. Officials expect the outbreak to grow, and are asking that anyone who ate at a Chipotle restaurant in those states from October 14 to October 23, 2015 and is experiencing diarrhea see a doctor.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody and/or watery, a mild fever, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms usually appear three to eight days after infection. This infection can develop into a more serious condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), especially in children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system.
A correct diagnosis is crucial. Administering antibiotics to someone with an E. coli infection increases the chance of developing HUS. The symptoms of HUS include pale skin, lethargy, easy bruising, a skin rash, and little to no urine output. If anyone experiences these symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately. HUS can cause kidney failure and death.