November 1, 2015
Chipotle: E. Coli Threat Closes Dozens Of Stores, Several Customers Hospitalized

The popular restaurant chain Chipotle is in trouble. Chipotle Mexican Grill, which specializes in burritos and tacos, has temporarily closed dozens of its stores in the states of Washington and Oregon as a precaution after 22 cases of E. coli infection were traced to Chipotle restaurants in the aforementioned states.

According to a report from USA Today, citing testimony from Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie, three customers in counties located in Oregon have fallen ill from E. coli and an additional 19 cases in Washington have been reported.

No one has died in the reported cases, the Washington State Department of Health said. However, seven people were hospitalized in Washington and one in Oregon.

"Many people affected with Shiga toxin E. coli may not seek health care, so the number of people made ill by this outbreak is likely more than identified," Modie explained via a statement. "Health officials want people who have eaten at a Chipotle between Oct. 14 and 23 and become ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea to see their health-care provider and mention this outbreak."

The health department spread awareness of the situation through its Twitter account.

People reported that Chipotle's company spokesperson, Chris Arnold, said that although the E. coli outbreak has been linked to only six of the company's restaurants in the area, a total of 43 restaurants were shut down as a precaution.

"The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our highest priority," Arnold explained. "After being notified by health department officials in the Seattle and Portland, areas that they were investigating approximately 20 cases of E. coli, including people who ate at six of our restaurants in those areas. We are working with health department officials to determine the cause of this issue. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."

The source of the contamination has not yet been accurately determined, officials said. And although those cases that are under investigation are directly related to six stores in the areas of the cities of Seattle and Portland, 43 restaurants remain temporarily closed as of the time of this report.

"We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution," the statement read,"even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems."

Chipotle is working with health departments to help determine the source of the contamination and "anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in the past three weeks should consult their healthcare provider," State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist stated. "The elderly and very young children are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most E. coli are relatively harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some strains of the bacteria can cause sickness, severe complications and, in severe cases, death.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, infections can cause severe stomach pains and cramps, vomiting and diarrhea that contains blood. Fever is usually low, if at all present, CNN said. Common sources of infection stem from human and animal contact in the agriculture industry, the site explained. Some cases are related to pollution management in food processing, as the bacteria can spread when employees of the food industry do not wash their hands before performing their work.

The CDC has investigated more than 20 major E. coli outbreaks since 2007, the report concluded.

[Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images News]