A Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Billerica, Massachusetts was closed today because an employee tested positive for norovirus. A spokesman for the restaurant said that four of their employees were feeling sick, so the facility closed for a “full sanitization.” The statement from Chipotle added that “no customers’ illnesses are connected to this restaurant.” They added that any sick employees should not come to work until they are well.
Chipotle was the center of five food poisoning outbreaks last year; two were for E. coli, one for Salmonella, and two for norovirus. And the restaurant chain is facing many civil lawsuits filed by outbreak victims, as well as a lawsuit from stockholders, who claim that Chipotle made false and/or misleading statements and violated the Securities Exchange Act. In addition, the chain was served with a federal subpoena as part of a criminal investigation into the California norovirus outbreak.
The first Chipotle E. coli O26 outbreak affected people in nine states which began in October 2015 and was declared over in February 2016. At least 55 people were sickened in that outbreak, which was in the states of California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington. PritzkerOlsen, the law firm that underwrites Food Poisoning Bulletin, filed the first lawsuit against Chipotle in that outbreak. The second E. coli O26 outbreak was located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska and sickened five people. The source for those outbreaks was not uncovered.
A Salmonella Newport outbreak in Minnesota in August and September 2015 sickened at least 64 people. The source for that outbreak was fresh tomatoes used in salsa and salads.
A norovirus outbreak at one of the chain’s Boston locations that sickened 151 students at Boston College in December 2015. And a norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, California sickened at least 234 people. The source for that outbreak was an ill employee.
Inspections of Chipotle restaurants revealed many problems, including one at the Simi Valley location that took place after cleaning. Inspectors noted dirty restrooms, unsanitary walls, floors, and ceilings, unclean equipment and improperly maintained equipment, and workers without valid food handler cards. The chain closed in February for a company-wide meeting, and vowed to improve its food handling methods.