Popular fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has closed dozens of its stores in Washington and Oregon in response to a rash of bacterial infections. Chipotle management has said it is investigating the contaminations that have resulted in dozens of customers being hospitalized.
Up to 22 cases of human infections were reported in Washington and Oregon after eating food at Chipotle health authorities said on Saturday. The infections have been attributed to the Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) bacteria. The Mexican grill restaurant chain closed its shops in these two states after the first few incidences of infection were reported.
Of the reported cases, 19 were from Washington while three were from Oregon. Close to a third of the infected persons have been hospitalized. No fatalities have been reported. According to Oregon Health Authority Spokesman Jonathan Modie, “Many people affected with Shiga toxin E. coli may not seek health care, so the number of people made ill by this outbreak is likely more than identified."
E. Coli bacteria are naturally present in human and animal intestines and are vital for digestion. They are, however, found in strains that are harmless. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), infections begin when “you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth." The CDC reported that the findings will be succeeded by severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often blood stained and vomiting.
The exact source of the contamination has yet to be identified. Although the cases being investigated have been traced to only six Chipotle locations, the chain has closed down 43 stores. Company spokesman Chris Arnold said in a statement, "We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems."
Arnold also said, “We are working with health department officials to determine the cause of this issue. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."
This is not the first infection case Chipotle is dealing with. In August this year, 22 Chipotle restaurants were found to be the source of salmonella infections in Minnesota that sickened 45 people. Also in August, 82 clients in Simi Valley, Calif. were infected with a norovirus strain causing diarrhea and vomiting after eating at one Chipotle restaurant. The company is facing lawsuits for each of these incidents.
Chipotle, which operates 1700 locations both in the U.S and outside, prides itself in having no artificial additives in its foods. The company, however, will have a tough time cleaning its image after the slew of infections arising from its menu.