An E. Coli outbreak that has sickened at least 22 people has led the popular Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle to temporarily shut down 43 of its stores in Washington and Oregon.
Officials from Washington and Oregon’s State Department of Health issued warnings on Saturday about the risk of food poisoning at Chipotle restaurants, indicating that all of the chain’s Washington-based restaurants and several in Oregon have been closed pending an investigation.
At least 22 people have became ill from E. Coli food poisoning as part of the Chipotle outbreak, including at least eight consumers who were hospitalized.
Since October 14, public health officials have linked at least three people have been treated in Oregon and another 19 in Washington to the outbreak. However, a spokesman for the Oregon Public Health Division indicates that at least 100 calls and e-mails have been received by the agency from people who recently ate at a Chipotle in the state who are claiming to be ill.
E. Coli is a type of food poisoning that can cause mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between 5 and 10 days. For individuals like young children, the sick and the elderly, the consequences may be more severe due to weakened immune systems, potentially resulting in the infection causing a serious condition known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which may lead to kidney failure or even death.
Both Washington and Oregon State Departments of Health have been working with one another, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. The investigation has revealed that 17 of the 19 individuals sickened in Washington ate at a Chipotle restaurant since mid-October before falling ill, leading them to believe the restaurant’s food was the source of the outbreak.
Dr. Jeff Dunchin, health officer for Public Health in Seattle and King County stated that the investigators are still not sure of the specific food item that was contaminated and further interviews with victims will be required to determine the source.
Due to Chipotle having many different ingredients available, the identification process will be difficult, but recent developments in the investigation have swayed more toward the E. Coli stemming from a produce item, Modie said.
Health officials have stated that the investigation could takes several weeks to identify the main ingredient that was contaminated and have expressed worries that the number of illness reported may be less than the actual number of individuals sickened.
Following the outbreak recognition by state and federal health officials, Spokesman of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Chris Arnold, stated that by Saturday the company had temporarily shut down all of their restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution. To date, 43 of the chain’s restaurant locations are temporarily closed and will remain so until the investigation reveals more information about the source of the outbreak, Arnold said.
Health officials are asking individuals who have recently ate at any Chipotle establishment in the Washington or Oregon areas to be alert for symptoms of E. Coli infection and to contact your healthcare provider immediately if symptoms develop.