It's Safe to Eat Chipotle Again (Hallelujah!)

*Cradles burrito bowl*

(Image credit: Marie Claire)

Update, 2/1: In its final update (opens in new tab) of the multi-state E. coli disaster linked to Chipotle, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has deemed the outbreak officially over. Unfortunately, the government agency and the chain have still not figured out the source of the bacteria.

Federal authorities told the New York Times (opens in new tab) that they investigated two E. coli STEC 026 outbreaks, which spread to 14 states total and sickened 60 people. Of those 60, 22 even required hospitalization. In its official statement, the CDC expressed that while it believes a common ingredient is likely the cause of contamination, investigators could not identify which ingredient that might be. "When a restaurant serves foods with several ingredients that are mixed or cooked together and then used in multiple menu items, it can be more difficult for epidemiological studies to identity the specific ingredient that is contaminated," the statement said.

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So while the CDC's announcement gives you a sort of go-ahead to eat at the Tex-Mex chain again, the "we're not sure what happened" caveat remains unsettling. Chipotle's spokesman, Chris Arnold, continues to reassure customers: "Over the past few months we have taken significant steps to improve the safety of all of the food we serve," he told the Times. "And we are confident that the changes we have made mean that every item on our menu is delicious and safe." 

Original Story, 11/21: An outbreak of E. coli linked to Chipotle (opens in new tab) that originated in the Pacific Northwest has spread south and east and has now infected people in six states.

New cases have been reported in California, New York, and Ohio, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday. The first cases were discovered late last month in Oregon and Washington, and more recently in Minnesota.

Investigators yet to determine the specific ingredient linked to the illness.

So far, 45 people have been infected, with 43 of them saying they ate at Chipotle in the week before they became sick. The CDC said it is aware of illnesses starting on dates ranging from Oct. 19 to Nov. 8. The agency said that illnesses that took place after Oct. 31 may not have been reported yet.

Chipotle Mexican Grill closed 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington (opens in new tab) in late October after health officials discovered most of the people sickened in the outbreak had eaten at its restaurants. The restaurants have since reopened.

"At the moment, we do not believe that it is necessary to close any restaurants," Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said in an email. He said the company has taken measures including deep cleaning in restaurants, replacing ingredients and providing supply chain data to investigators.

Chipotle (opens in new tab), based in Denver, has more than 1,900 locations and has gained popularity by touting the freshness and quality of its ingredients. Earlier this year, the company ran into trouble after suspending a pork supplier that violated its animal welfare standards. That led to a shortage of carnitas at hundreds of locations around the country, which the company said dampened its sales growth ...

Chipotle said affected individuals reported eating at two restaurants in Turlock, CA; one in Akron, OH; one in Amherst, NY and one in Burnsville, MN. The company said it is not aware of any employees who have become ill.

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney representing people who have been sickened, said the spread of the outbreak will make it easier to determine the source.

"It helps investigators link up to a perishable item," Marler said. "What they're really focusing on right now is the supply chain. What's the common denominator? Who supplied what product to these stores?"

Of those sickened, two have been in California, two in Minnesota, one in New York, one in Ohio, 13 in Oregon and 26 in Washington, according to the CDC. Sixteen people have been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths, the agency said.

So much for those food-safety consulting firms (opens in new tab) Chipotle hired. 

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