E.coli outbreak tied with Chipotle reports reach Pennsylvania



Claire Hoffman

Last Friday, December 5 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated the list of states reporting cases of E.coli, to include Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  The outbreak began in October, in Oregon and Washington, and has grown to include 52 people in nine states. 

The cases are all linked to food from Chipotle Mexican Grill, though the CDC has not been able to link the bacterial infection to a specific item at Chipotle. “The epidemiologic evidence available at this time,” representatives said, “suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak.” 

The restaurant chain has closed 43 restaurants around Portland and Seattle, when many who became ill all reported eating at 11 common restaurants. There has only been one case of the illness reported in Pennsylvania.

On Monday, December 7, Boston College officials reported that 80 students became ill after eating Chipotle, including eight members of their basketball team.

The students reported symptoms of severe vomitting and diarrhea, and the outbreak on the team caused them to miss their game against University of Massachussetts-Lowell. University officials also reported that the students were all linked through Chipotle.

Representatives of Chipotle said that there were no confirmed cases of E.coli connected to Chipotle in Massachussetts and that the illnesses could not be associated with the outbreaks in the other nine states. Chipotle closed their Cleveland Circle location in Boston.

Symptoms of E.coli include abdominal cramping and severe diarrhea. Many cases of less dangerous illnesses like the norovirus, which Chipotle claims is the cause of the cases in Boston. 

Medical staff at Boston College sent out a campus-wide email notifying students and faculty of the outbreak, urging them to avoid the restaurant. 

The recent outbreaks have the company re-evaluating its local produce program and its supplier standards. Chipotle prides itself on only dealing with local sources for their produce and meat supply that are hormone and antibiotic-free chicken, beef and pork. Their reliance on these small suppliers, who lack the infrastructure to keep up with the latest food safety standards, has left Chipotle vulnerable.

Chipotle dealt with another E.coli outbreak over the summer in Washington, a norovirus outbreak affecting 200 in California also over the summer and a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota in September caused by tainted tomatoes.

The E.coli virus gained particular noteriety in 1993 when beef patties from Jack in the Box infected over 700 people, killing four. 

University students seem undeterred by the outbreak however. “I wasn’t nervous about going there and it came as a second thought that there was this scare,” Senior chemistry major Garrett Waligroski said. “At first I was happy that I got my food so quickly, but then it struck me as I left that people are taking this seriously.”