Chipotle, the Mexican-themed restaurant chain, has temporarily closed its restaurants in Washington and Oregon after a series of E. coli infections were reported.
“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,” Chipotle said in an emailed statement, according to Reuters.
The Washington State Department of Health announced that no one has died due to the infection yet, although seven of the Washington patients and one from Oregon were hospitalized. A total of 19 cases in Washington, and 3 in Oregon were reported.
Health officials say that the outbreak appears to be linked to the food served at Chipotle restaurants, and even though they haven’t found another possible source of contamination, they can not tell for sure until they finish the investigation.
No more Chipotle for a while
The closing of Chipotle’s restaurants was a complete voluntary measure, saying that most of its stores in the area reported no problems. Bob Goldin, executive vice president at U.S. restaurant consulting firm Technomic assured that soon the company will recover from these events.
Also, the company announced that they are working with health departments to get to the root of the outbreak, as they consider the wellbeing of their customers one of their highest priorities.
“Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in the past three weeks should consult their healthcare provider,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. “The elderly and very young children are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection,” according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Moreover, they insist that people who have eaten at the restaurant between October 14 and 23, and present any symptoms, should report it to their healthcare provider and get the right treatment.
E. coli is more common than we think
Among the symptoms caused by the disease are abdominal cramps, fever, bloody diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes resulting in a severe situation that can compromise the patient’s life. Nevertheless, E. coli is a bacteria that often lives in the human body without doing any harm. In fact, it takes part of our digestive processes.
Experts say that the growing trend, showed by Chipotle and other fast-food chains, of using unprocessed food and fresh ingredients can lead to foodborne diseases because they skip the cooking process where the heat kills all the possible pathogens.
It isn’t the first time
Other contaminating pathogens have been found in Chipotle restaurants the last months. In September, Minnesota health officials said that the tomatoes of 22 restaurants infected dozens of people with salmonella, some being hospitalized.
In August, 80 customers got infected with the contagious virus, after they reported feeling ill after eating in a Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley, California. Although these food poisoning outbreaks often result in lawsuits, the sales of food chains tend to recover fast.