Fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced the closure of one outlet in Sterling, VA after the health department received several complaints from customers who fell ill after eating there. These customers reported symptoms that include: dehydration, diarrhea, severe stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Some customers had also reported dizziness.
The site received eight reports directly but, so far, a total of 13 customers have reported illness between July 14 and July 15.
Chipotle executive director of food safety, Jim Marsden, notes, “We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. The reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus. Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle.”
Again, the company has closed the store during the investigation but they plan to reopen again on Tuesday, when the sanitizing efforts should conclude.
Now, contamination issues, like this one, are not uncommon in the food industry. Despite all best practices and efforts, there is an occasional report. You may recall a few decades ago there was a massive E. coli scare; and E. coli has been of great concern ever since. As a matter of fact, E. coli was the culprit behind a similar Chipotle outbreak that affected stores in 14 states only a couple of years ago.
In this case, though, the culprit is the norovirus which is different from E. coli in a couple of ways. Highly contagious, norovirus results in the systems listed above and, actually, is the most common cause of food borne illness in America: every year, more than 21 million cases are reported. While E. coli infection is the result of not cooking meat to the proper temperature, norovirus infection is spread when someone who works with food does not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom.
This is not the first time Chipotle has dealt with norovirus issues. You may recall that in December of 2015 120 students at Boston College fell sick from a norovirus outbreak at a Chipotle restaurant near the campus.
Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) fell 6 percent in mid morning trading.