BOSTON – 120 Boston College students contracted norovirus after eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurant in Boston’s Cleveland Circle over the weekend, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) reported on Wednesday.

The restaurant chain has been struggling with a different E. coli epidemic in 9 states that is not related with the recent cases in Boston, according to the (BPHC). However, the students were also tested for E. coli and are waiting for the results.

Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files
Another outbreak at Chipotle, a situation that has been developing for the last months. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

The Boston Inspectional Services Department along with the BPHC is carrying an investigation to find out the source of the outbreak, as Chipotle in Cleveland Circle has been temporarily closed while its shares closed up 1 percent at $548.01 on Wednesday.

Norovirus, the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States, is greatly contagious and can quickly spread through contaminated food and inadequate hygiene. People can also get sickened by contact with contaminated surfaces. In addition, physical proximity to the infected can also contract the illness, as pointed out by the BPHC. In fact, student’s roommates became ill as they also presented persistent nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the main symptoms of norovirus.

The previous norovirus outbreak linked to the restaurant was reported in August, when 80 customers and 13 employees became sick at a Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley, California. In November, the first E. coli outbreak was reported in nine states after 52 infected customers said they had been eaten at a Chipotle restaurant.

It is true that norovirus is not a rare illness and neither is it a leading cause of death in the U.S. Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University specializing in restaurant food safety, said that an outbreak related to a restaurant, a college or a hospital will probably occur weekly between December and March. Nevertheless, it is unusual to see a single restaurant dealing with several kinds of outbreaks within a six-month period, including a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and Boston in October.

“It’s important to note that we have been in business for 22 years and served millions of people in that time without seeing incidents like we have seen this year… That said, even one illness connected to our restaurants is too many, so we have set a goal to be an industry leader in food safety”, Chris Arnold, Chipotle spokesman, said, remarking that the recent foodborne incidents do not define the company’s service.

The Mexican Grill restaurant chain has announced plans to improve its food-safety measures, including practices carried out along with IEH Laboratories and extra training of employees on adequate food handling.

Source: The Wall Street Journal