Officials confirm 60 cases in Chipotle illness outbreak

by Erica Shaffer
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 Chipotle
The restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, reopened following a complete sanitization.
 
LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. – The Loudoun County Health Dept. (LCHD) has confirmed at least 60 individuals became ill after eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Sterling, Virginia. On July 17, LCHD was notified of the illnesses by the Chipotle restaurant in Sterling and local medical providers. Customers who had eaten at the restaurant complained of nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea over the previous two days.

“One ill patron has tested positive for norovirus,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the LCHD. “This provides additional information but is not sufficient to determine the cause of the outbreak. The Health Department is awaiting further test results, which should be available early next week.”

Chipotle temporarily closed the restaurant for sanitization. Goodfriend said Chipotle has been working with the department to identify the cause of the illnesses and to prevent future illnesses by having LCHD staff onsite on July 18 and 19. In a statement, Chipotle said, “We are appreciative of the Department of Health (DOH) for its prompt response and collaboration in addressing the recent incident of norovirus at one of our locations in Virginia. An update from the DOH confirms that one patron tested positive for Norovirus. The restaurant has reopened to customers, following a brief closure to allow for a complete sanitization. No other Chipotle restaurants were involved. Food safety is a top priority to us and we apologize for any distress this has caused.”

Meanwhile, additional reports of illness are appearing on a website called iwaspoisoned.com, which collects and screens reports of foodborne illness or “bad food experiences” while dining out. But Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, said “…that data is not clinically or medically validated in any way.”

Chipotle overhauled food safety procedures at all its restaurants following a foodborne illness outbreak in 2015 that included 55 cases of E. coli O26 across 11 states followed by a norovirus outbreak at a Boston-based restaurant that reportedly sickened 80 individuals.

In a statement, Steve Ells, chairman and CEO of Chipotle, apologized to the people who reported getting sick and reiterated the company’s commitment to the safety and well-being of its customers.

“We made a commitment to be industry leaders in food safety and we have made tremendous progress since starting on that journey,” Ells said.

The company hired food-safety expert Jim Marsden, Ph.D., as its executive director of food safety. Along with Dale Dexter, Ph.D., manager of food safety programs, Marsden implemented a new system of food safety interventions and supplier requirements.

OSI Industries and Ed Miniat LLC implemented sous-vide cooking of Chipotle’s beef. Chipotle also adopted high pressure processing (HPP) as a food-safety intervention for its chorizo sausage. Vegetables are blanched at each restaurant.

Ells said other steps taken to improve food safety at Chipotle include:

  • HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) food safety system in Chipotle restaurants;
  • Brought in third-party food safety auditing system;
  • Required validated interventions for all critical suppliers;
  • Instituted additional food handling and preparation procedures;
  • Required food safety certification for all managers;
  • Accelerated installation of advanced ventilation purification systems;
  • Created a rapid deployment team including food safety experts and nurses; and
  • Developed a food safety advisory council comprised of the nation’s leading food safety experts.

 “We believe these advancements, among others, have put us at the top of our industry as we continually strive to find new and innovative ways to ensure that our restaurants are safe,” Ells said. “We know that maintaining the highest level of safety in all of our restaurants is our responsibility. I made a commitment on behalf of Chipotle to make our restaurants the safest place to eat, and I am confident in the programs and procedures we have implemented.”

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