The E. coli outbreak announced in Oregon and Washington this
weekend is the third linked to Chipotle restaurants this year.
In September, more than 60 people who ate at Chipotle
restaurants in Minnesota were sickened by salmonella, according
to the Minnesota Department of Health. In August, nearly 100
customers and staff were infected by norovirus at a Chipotle
restaurant in Simi Valley, California, county environmental
health officials said.
The popular burrito chain was also linked to four outbreaks that
sickened hundreds of people in 2009 and 2008 involving E. coli,
campylobacter, hepatitis A and norovirus, according to health
officials and news reports.
The salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter outbreaks were traced
to produce, often a culprit in foodborne illness cases.
Norovirus is spread by people and often hepatitis A is, too. In
the August outbreak, Chipotle staff at the Simi Valley
restaurant tested positive for norovirus.
Investigators have yet to nail the source of the latest
illnesses, the first Chipotle outbreak in the Northwest. Company
spokesman Chris Arnold said six restaurants were involved. The
chain voluntarily closed all 43 of its locations in the two
"This (outbreak) will likely be some type of perishable product,
whether it's lettuce or cilantro," said Bill Marler, a prominent
food safety litigator in Seattle . "It would be unusual to have
six stores undercooking beef at the same time."
Thorough cooking kills E. coli but it's difficult to wash the
bacteria off of fresh produce. The salmonella outbreak in
September in Minnesota was traced to tomatoes, prompting
Chipotle to switch suppliers.
Health officials in Oregon and Washington have been working on
the investigation all weekend. Three patients have been
identified in Oregon, residents of Washington and Clackamas
counties. The 19 cases in Washington state are spread among
Clark, Cowlitz, King and Skagit counties. One person in Oregon
and seven in Washington have been hospitalized.
State and county health officials are interviewing patients. The
Food and Drug Administration is working with the restaurant, and
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing the most
"Testing is going to be continuing into the new week," said
James Apa, spokesman for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
"It is still very, very early in the investigation."
Jonathan Modie, spokesman for Oregon Public Health Division,
said health officials are trying to determine which restaurant
or restaurants in Oregon were linked to the outbreak. All three
patients ate at Chipotle, he said. Almost all of the patients in
Washington state also dined at the restaurant, Apa said.
The company declined to name the locations.
"While the health departments in Washington and Oregon, with
whom we are working very closely, are conducting investigations
into possible sources of the problem, we are going to decline to
discuss details until more is known," said Chris Arnold,
spokesman for the Denver-based chain.
Chipotle Mexican Grill has more than 1,500 restaurants in the
United States, Canada and Britain. It shuns products with
genetically modified organisms and touts fresh, local and
Marler said this outbreak, on the heels of two others, will
knock a blow to the brand.
"They've been growing quite quickly," he said. "Given that
they've had three outbreaks in a period of two and a half, three
months, it behooves them to take a pretty strong look at how
they deal with food safety."