Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. stores are preparing to reopen in Washington and Oregon amid the unresolved cases of recent E. coli outbreaks linked to the restaurant chain. After a batch of tests revealed negative E. coli results of food samples, health officials said on Monday, Nov. 9 that the restaurant could open as early as Wednesday, Nov. 11.
The outbreak sickened more than 40 people and based on the investigation of samples collected from the patients, the strain of infective pathogen found was E. coli O26. Health officials said the culprit may have been raw ingredients such as tomatoes, lettuce or cilantro.
Food outbreak tests cannot necessarily determine a particular source of infection because of the possibility that the contaminated food has already been consumed before the food samples were obtained.
Although Washington state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said that the restaurant is expected to reopen its doors soon, the company still needs to comply with several requirements before full operations can be resumed.
Stipulations that the company needs to accomplish include sanitizing all food items and closed-down facilities, throwing out all food stocks and bringing in new batches of supplies, testing high-risk food items prior to delivery in stores and allowing county health officials to inspect each restaurant branch to ensure that all requirements are being met.
Chipotle has also performed voluntary testings on their own to identify the status of the fresh produce coming to their restaurants. The company is still in the process of finishing the tests and according to them, they do not plan to reopen until all the results are in.
Chipotle representative Chris Arnold said that aside from the testings done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and health offices, approximately 900 test samples of food, restaurant surfaces and equipment, have already been received and none has yielded a positive E. coli results. "All have been negative. We are, of course, sharing those results with investigators," said Arnold.
Of the 43 people in the Northwest have contracted E. coli due to the outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants, the latest case of infection was in Washington on Oct. 24, 2015 .
The recent E. coli outbreak is the third food contamination issue that Chipotle has faced since August 2015. The two earlier cases entailed salmonella and norovirus infections.
"Clearly this is a Chipotle problem," said Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who filed two cases against the restaurant chain due to the recent outbreak.
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr