The Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant at 212 Westlake Avenue North in Seattle, Washington was closed on Thursday, December 10, 2015 for repeated food safety violations, according to a report on Seattle & King County Public Health. The restaurant had three red violations in three consecutive inspections, which prompted the closure. Red violations are those that are serious enough they can cause foodborne illness.
In December 2014, an inspection found that food was being held at less than 130°F (food must be held at 140°F or higher to prevent bacterial growth). In October 2015, violations including improper cooking times and temperatures of food, and improper use of non-continuous cooking. The inspection in November 2015 also found improper hot holding temperatures of less than 130°F.
Each time the restaurant received 25 red critical violation points. If a facility gets 35 or more red critical violation points, the site must be reinspected within 14 days. The restaurant did not meet the minimum required 90 points on a 400-point scale in each of the three inspections.
Chipotle is the site of a multistate E. coli O26 outbreak that has sickened at least 52 people in 9 states. Twenty people have been hospitalized in that outbreak. Public health officials have not been able to find the bacteria in repeated testing of environmental and food samples, but epidemiological evidence links the restaurant to the outbreak.
And last week, norovirus at a Chipotle restaurant in Boston sickened at least 141 students at Boston College, including members of its basketball team. The restaurant at Cleveland Circle was closed after numerous reports of sick students were received.
Testing revealed that norovirus had caused that outbreak, even though preliminary speculation was that the illnesses were caused by E. coli bacteria. As it turns out. an employee was working at that restaurant while sick. All but 12 students ate at that particular restaurant before becoming ill; the 12 had contact with ill persons before they got sick.
In August 2015, Chipotle was the site of another norovirus outbreak in Ventura County, California. Sixty customers and 18 employees were sickened in that outbreak. And in late August, Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota were closed after a Salmonella outbreak linked to fresh tomatoes sickened 64 people and hospitalized 9.
It is unusual for one restaurant chain to have so many outbreaks in a short amount of time, Jimmy John’s restaurants have had similar problems, most notably numerous E. coli outbreaks linked to both raw sprouts and cucumbers. They have had serious outbreaks at least once a year since 2011; most have been linked to contaminated raw sprouts.
Chipotle’s CEO has apologized for these outbreaks, although other executives had been blaming the media for “sensational headlines” and the CDC for its reports. Their stock price has sunk from $750 per share in mid-October 2015 to $546 a share last week.