On Sunday, the popular Chipotle Mexican Grill chain announced the closing of all restaurants in two West Coast markets--Oregon and Washington--due to a reported outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria.
So far, Oregon has reported three cases of E. coli, but Washington has tallied at least 19. All of the cases involve patients that had eaten at a Chipotle restaurant since October 14. No deaths have been reported, but eight victims have been hospitalized. Officials do expect the number of victims to rise because some may not have sought medical attention yet.
Although six Chipotle restaurants have been linked to the outbreak, the chain took extra precautions to close all restaurants in the two states to avoid any additional illnesses. Health officials in neither state have been able to identify an exact source of the outbreak yet. Food samples have been collected for testing.
An email statement from Chipotle reads in part: "After being notified by health department officials in the Seattle (Wash.) and Portland, Ore. areas that they were investigating approximately 20 cases of E. coli, including people who ate at six of our restaurants in those areas, we immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution.” The statement goes on to say, “We offer our deepest sympathies to those that have been affected by this situation.”
Chipotle has earned a positive reputation among demanding consumers because they strive to serve as much fresh, unprocessed food as possible. However, some food safety experts believe this could be putting the chain at risk for foodborne outbreaks because pathogens thrive on those fresh, uncooked ingredients.
This is not Chipotle’s first incidence involving food contamination. Since August, other cases in California and Minnesota involving Salmonella bacteria and norovirus have plagued the restaurant chain, ultimately forcing the restaurant to switch tomato suppliers. Otherwise, Chipotle has a history of earning high marks in the area of food safety and integrity. In September, the chain was one of only five fast food chains that passed an assessment regarding their practice of not using antibiotics in the meat they serve.