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Chipotle E. Coli Outbreak Likely Caused By Contaminated Produce, Says Oregon Health Official

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The Oregon Public Health Divisions received approximately 100 e-mails and calls from consumers who recently ate at Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and became sick. Forty-three branches of Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in Oregon and Washington temporarily closed following the distressed reports. Early investigations linked outbreak to contaminated produce.

Finding the outbreak origin could take a few days, even weeks as many steps are taken to sequester the source and perform a trace-back. Medical experts suggest the source can be found somewhere in the food supply chain due to its presence in various branches.

"We are looking at everything but our epidemiology investigation is guiding us toward produce. Chipotle has meat products, but based on things we heard from people who got sick...it seems like the most common denominator is some kind of vegetable course," said Oregon Public Health Division spokesperson Jonathan Modie.

Early reports had traced E. coli outbreak to food purchased from Chipotle restaurants from Oct. 14 to 23 in several counties in Washington and the metro Portland area. To date, at least 22 consumers had become sick with E. coli. Eight people have been admitted into hospitals. So far, no deaths have been reported.

Washington State Department of Health's medical epidemiologist Marisa D'Angeli encouraged consumers who recently ate at the concerned branches and experienced intestinal symptoms to see their physicians. Anyone who experiences bloody diarrhea should get their stool tested whether or not they ate at Chipotle. Since the distressed calls were traced to various restaurants, cross-contamination or an infected individual are unlikely sources, contaminated fresh produce could be the main cause.

Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold said the company is not closing down branches in other states since no evidence has been found in other location. The investigation will dictate the reopening of Washington and Oregon branches.

This is not the first time Chipotle has faced food-related outbreaks. In August, a tomato-linked salmonella outbreak led to dozens of sick people in Minnesota. Also in mid-August, California health officials said 80 customers and 18 employees got sick because of norovirus outbreak at a Simi Valley Chipotle restaurant.

The recent incident has taken a bite off Chipotle's stock due to food safety concerns. Following the temporary closures, the restaurant's stock dropped 2.5 percent in trading. Company officials described October sales as "very, very choppy" because of the food safety incident. In late October, the stock was already down by 6.5 percent as investors continue to raise concerns about it decelerating growth rate.

Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr

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