Chipotle has built up a huge following for its fresh, and arguably healthier fast food. Now, however, at least 43 chipotle restaurants have been shut down across Washington and Oregon after 22 people become ill on October 14th after eating at the restaurant.
So far, no deaths have been reported due to the outbreak, but at least 8 people have been hospitalized. Three people in Oregon, and 19 people in Washington have reportedly fallen ill.
The affected restaurants are primarily based in the metro-Portland area, and southern Washington.
Chipotle is moving quickly to protect customers. The company released the following statement:
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our highest priority. 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 immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems. 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.”
Turns out, the fresh, uncooked vegetables that make Chipotle so popular among its customers, also create risks for contamination. This past summer, at least 64 people in Minnesota were sickened by tomatoes contaminated with salmonella.
E. coli is generally a harmless bacteria, and in fact inhabits the human intestines. Some strains of E. coli, however, produce dangerous toxins, and particularly the “Shiga toxin”.
Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli are referred to as “STEC”. The most common source of contamination for STEC e. coli is undercooked ground beef. E. coli also tends to thrive in the soil, and particularly near the roots of plants.