Chipotle Shares Plummet as E. Coli Outbreak Spreads

Cases have been reported in six states.
Chipotle restaurant workers in Miami on April 27, the day the company announced it would use only non-GMO ingredients in its food. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Nov 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

The E. coli outbreak that sickened 22 people and forced Chipotle Mexican Grill to temporarily shutter dozens of restaurants in Oregon and Washington earlier this month has continued to spread, infecting diners in four additional states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that 45 people have contracted the bacteria in six states, including California, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio. Sixteen people have been hospitalized as a result of E. coli, which can cause food poisoning and develop into a life-threatening infection such as pneumonia or meningitis. Children and the elderly are most at risk.

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Federal health officials said a menu item or ingredient at Chipotle is the likely source of the outbreak, but they have not yet determined which food is linked. All but two of the 45 infected people reported eating at a Chipotle restaurant within a week of noticing symptoms of E. coli, which often causes diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

The federal update comes just three weeks after Chipotle announced it was voluntarily closing 43 restaurants to conduct sanitation and environmental testing after eight locations were linked to the outbreak, which was first reported in October. The fast-casual chain reopened those restaurants on Nov. 10, when it said that each tested negative for E. coli and posed no ongoing threat.

“We take this incident very seriously because the safety of our food and well-being of our customers is always our highest priority,” Steve Ells, Chipotle’s co–chief executive, said in a statement.

The E. coli outbreak has been financially ruinous for the restaurant, which has positioned itself as a leader in fast food sourced from fresh, local produce and pasture-fed animals raised without antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Shares of the chain that in April announced it was the first to get rid of GMO ingredients dropped 12.4 percent to an 18-month low on Friday, according to Reuters.

About 48 million Americans—or one in six—get sick every year from food-borne diseases, which result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually, according to the CDC. The agency recommends preventing infection by cooking meats thoroughly, avoiding raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products, and washing hands thoroughly before cooking or eating.