Chipotle shuts Seattle, Portland stores after E. coli outbreak

Sun Nov 1, 2015 5:14pm EST
 
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By Ransdell Pierson and Lisa Baertlein

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N: Quote) said on Sunday it had closed all its restaurants in two West Coast markets due to a reported outbreak of E. coli bacteria that is being investigated by the company and health authorities.

"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," Chipotle said in an emailed statement.

The company said the vast majority of its stores in the area had reported no problems. "We offer our deepest sympathies to those that have been affected by this situation."

It is the third outbreak of food contamination at Chipotle restaurants since August. Those earlier cases involved salmonella and the highly infectious virus norovirus.

The 1,700-outlet chain has grown quickly since it opened in 1993 with a single location, distinguishing itself from typical fast-food restaurants by touting its use of healthy and high-quality fresh ingredients in its menu of burritos, tacos and salads.

There is a growing trend among restaurants, as with Chipotle, to use more fresh, unprocessed food. While that may be good for nutrition, experts say it raises the risk of foodborne illness because cooking kills pathogens that cause illness.

The Oregon Health Authority said three cases of E. coli in Oregon and at least 19 in Washington have been linked to eating at Chipotle restaurants since Oct. 14, with ages ranging from 11 to 64. One third of affected customers have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

But more cases are likely to be reported, the agency said, because some people who may have been infected with the intestinal bug likely have not yet sought medical care.   Continued...

 
A sign is seen at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in San Francisco, California July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith