Salmonella outbreaks that have sickened 45 people in Minnesota are being linked by health officials to franchises of Mexican fast food Chipotle.

According to the Minnesota Health Department, five were hospitalized due to the Salmonella Newport bacteria. It has also been reported that 32 individuals likely ate at one of the 17 franchises of Chipotle, mostly in the Twin Cities area.

The people infected with the bacteria ranged from 15 to 67 years old and were possibly infected between Aug. 16 and Aug. 26.

Investigators have identified the possible source of the outbreak as a certain produce item. Chipotle has since then pulled out the ingredient and swapped out their entire supply.

Dana Eikmeier, epidemiologist for the Food-borne Diseases Unit of the Minnesota Health Department, said that Chipotle has been proactive in cooperating with the investigators to control the outbreak and detect its source.

Health officials believe that there are no longer any transmissions of the strain and that the patients are currently in recovery.

"The safety and well-being of our customers is always our highest priority," Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, said in a statement.

Doug Schultz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Health Department, said that Chipotle has reviewed its policies for employees that might fall ill.

Schultz explained that the large number of infected individuals was unusual in such a period of time. He also described it as one of the largest outbreaks he had seen in 20 years.

Fortunately, he said that there is no sign that the outbreak has spread within other states, and that information about the current outbreak has been recorded in case similar cases appear.

Meanwhile, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University Medical School said that investigators are looking into the issue of whether the ingredients have already arrived contaminated with salmonella or if the ingredients were infected inside the establishment.

Schaffner noted that if the ingredients arrived already contaminated and were served uncooked in a salad, there would be no way of determining whether the food is contaminated or not.

According to the Minnesota Health Department, there are approximately 700 cases of salmonella every year in Minnesota. Infection from salmonella can lead to diarrhea, abdominal pains and fever, and in severe cases, can also cause meningitis or infect the blood.

Photo: Ian T. McFarland | Flickr 

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