Chipotle food scare highlights issue that impacts thousands annually

Chipotle is grappling with more cases of foodborne illness, an issue that causes one in six Americans to get sick annually after consuming contaminated foods or beverages.

The company's stock has taken a hit this week following foodborne illness issues at a restaurant in Virginia and a report of rodents scurrying around at one of their restaurants in Texas. Chipotle executives told Business Insider that the chain temporarily closed the restaurant in Sterling, Va., after a small number of customers reported symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, dehydration and nausea.

Chipotle officials said the reported symptoms were consistent with norovirus, a common cause of viral gastroenteritis.

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This isn’t the first time Chipotle has had issues with food-related illnesses. The company was hit by multiple outbreaks of E. coli in 2015, causing dozens of customers to get sick. No deaths were reported related to the outbreaks.

“As a member of the Food Safety Advisory Council at Chipotle, I’ve observed the systems the company has put in place to control norovirus,” said Elisabeth Hagen, former Chief Medical Officer and Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA. “They are among the best in the food industry. Despite, these efforts, no company is immune from norovirus risks.”

Every year, 48 million Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials also estimate norovirus causes 19 to 21 million cases each year in the U.S. It attributes to 570 to 800 deaths yearly, mostly among young children and adults.

The Dayton Daily News examined recent inspection reports by the Dayton-Montgomery County Public Health at Chipotle locations. Hundreds of complaints come in to the local health department every year for various restaurants; in 2017 the Dayton-Montgomery County Public Health Department has received complaints involving at least five Chipotle restaurants.

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Some of the incidents included locations like the Centerville Chipotle on 1051 Miamisburg Centerville Road. In late May, officials with the health department inspected the restaurant after a customer issued a complaint to the local health department regarding a possible food borne illness.

Health officials were told that no employees called off work sick or were sent home sick during the time of the alleged illness, and they were also informed that the facility did not receive any phone calls or other responses regarding ill customers, according to a health inspection report.

The restaurant staff was informed to ensure gloves and utensils are used to handle foods, and officials recommended that food temperatures be monitored multiple times everyday. No further action was required, according to the report.

Another Chipotle in Beavercreek, located at 4472 Walnut St., had at least two reported complaints this year, and an inspection found “critical violations” in January. The person in charge failed to ensure employees of their responsibility to report information about their health as it relates to illnesses that could impact the food being served.

» RELATED: Chipotle closes restaurant after reports of customer illness

Employees were also found eating and drinking from open cups in the work areas. Guacamole was prepared and not checked for temperature prior to placing in walk-cooler, according to Greene County health inspection reports. New rules were discussed with management, according to the last report filed in January.

Chipotle officials said the restaurant chain has hired a food safety expert, Dr. Jim Marsden, to oversee all aspects of its food safety program. Chipotle has also implemented new food safety protocols in all restaurants. Nearly all Chipotle locations are company-owned.

“We are sorry that individuals reported sickness from one of our locations. The safety and well-being of our customers is always our top priority,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle CEO. “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. 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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• 48 MILLION people get sick from a foodborne illness every year

• 128,000 people are hospitalized due to foodborne illness every year

• 3,000 people die every year from foodborne illnesses

Source: CDC

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