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Chipotle's Two E. Coli Outbreaks Are Over, But Not Before Hurting Sales

FEB 05, 2016 | CAITLYN FITZPATRICK
Chipotle is officially safe to dine at again as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have declared that both outbreaks are over.

The popular Mexican grill first came under fire in October 2015 when customer after customer reported illness. What was quickly identified as Escherichia coli (E. coli) became a multistate problem.

“The fourth quarter of 2015 was the most challenging period in Chipotle’s history,” Steve Ells, founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Chipotle, began in a statement on February 1.
The initial outbreak, which was the larger of the two, spread throughout 11 states. It infected 55 people and 21 of them were hospitalized. In November, the chain closed all 43 locations in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon – the primary locations of the bacteria. An advanced laboratory technique identified the specific strain as E. coli O26 (STEC O26). In December 2015, a second outbreak extended to Kansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. Five people became ill and one of them was hospitalized. The culprit was a different, rare strain of STEC 026.

Investigators suspected that a common meal ingredient was the driving force behind the outbreaks; however, backtracking distribution did not lead to a specific product. The most recent of the illnesses was reported on December 1, and as of February 1, the two outbreaks are over.

Chipotle’s 2015 fourth quarter revenue was $997.5 million – a 6.8% drop from the 2014 fourth quarter. Company officials say that the decrease was due to the food-borne illness cases that plagued the brand towards the end of the year.

“We are pleased to have this behind us and can place our full energies to implementing our enhanced food safety plan that will establish Chipotle as an industry leader in food safety,” Ells said.

Whether you’re more of a burrito, taco, or rice bowl kind of person, celebrate by not thinking twice about paying extra for guacamole. A tweet on the official Chipotle account indicates that they’re turning their words into action right away.

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