Shortly after reopening its restaurants in Oregon and Washington that were closed due to an outbreak of E. coli, the fast food chain Chipotle is now possibly tied to more incidents of the illness in California, Minnesota, Ohio, and New York, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a release, the restaurant company explained:
The CDC has informed Chipotle that it identified six additional cases in which initial testing matches the E. coli strain involved in the Washington and Oregon incident. Although one of the individuals has no known link to Chipotle, five individuals did report eating at Chipotle, including two in Turlock, Calif., one in Akron, Ohio, one in Amherst, NY, and one in Burnsville, Minn.
The new incidents bring the total number of people infected with this strain of E. coli since mid-October to 45 people from six states: California (2), Minnesota (2), New York (1), and Ohio (1), in addition to the previous cases in Oregon (13), and Washington (26). Of the total, 16 have been hospitalized so far.
The CDC suspects "a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak." No definitive source was identified in the outbreak in the Northwest, said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold in an email.
The company stated in its discussion of risks to its business in its most recent annual report: “We may be at a higher risk for food-borne illness outbreaks than some competitors due to our use of fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation.”
Chipotle is examining its food preparation procedures and is working with health officials to understand the distribution of food items served at the restaurants where ill people ate.
William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia said in a report on Friday that some types of Chipotle diner — frequent customers, customers on the West Coast, and new customers, are "most likely to rethink their willingness to eat at Chipotle, which could cause some near-term disruption," but overall, she still expects that "Chipotle to emerge from the incident largely unscathed."