A 27-year-old Seattle man is suing Chipotle restaurants after he was infected with E. coli in July during an undisclosed outbreak tied to the fast-food chain. Three months later, Chipotle closed dozens of sites in the Northwest because of potential illness.
A 27-year-old Seattle man is suing Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., claiming he was sickened in July during an undisclosed E. coli outbreak, months before dozens of the fast-food restaurants were shuttered because of illness in the Northwest.
Timothy Kniffin, a cafe and bakery worker, said he fell ill starting July 25 after eating pork carnitas, white rice, salsa, peppers, guacamole and chips at a Chipotle restaurant at 1415 Broadway in Seattle. He was hospitalized from July 30 through Aug. 2 with an E. coli O157: H7 infection later tied to the restaurant, according to a complaint filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Western Washington.
Officials with Public Health — Seattle & King County confirmed the July E. coli outbreak, which sickened four other people and hospitalized two, including Kniffin. But health officials didn’t publicize the outbreak at the time.
“By the time we were able to make a connection to Chipotle, the outbreak was over,” James Apa, a health- department spokesman, said in an email.
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Kniffin is seeking damages for general pain and suffering, medical expenses, travel expenses and compensation for loss of enjoyment of life, according to the complaint filed by Marler Clark, a Seattle food-safety law firm.
“The issue in my mind is why the health department did not tell the public about the outbreak in July. Might well have saved Chipotle from all the other outbreaks,” said lawyer Bill Marler.
In a statement, Apa said a thorough investigation of the restaurant found nothing to explain the outbreak — or anything to indicate ongoing risk.
“There’s no evidence to support the claim that announcing this outbreak after it was over would have made a difference in the subsequent Chipotle E. coli outbreaks, which were different strains, widely publicized and remain unsolved,” he added.
Three months after Kniffin fell ill, Chipotle officials shuttered 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington after an outbreak of a different strain of E. coli — E. coli O26 — sickened dozens of people in the region. That outbreak eventually led to 53 illnesses in nine states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Chipotle restaurants faced a series of outbreaks of multiple types of illness across the U.S. in 2015, including salmonella infections that sickened 64 people in Minnesota and norovirus infections that sickened about 300 customers in Ventura, Calif., in August and about 140 people, mostly college students, in Boston in December. In addition, the CDC is investigating another outbreak of a second strain of E. coli O26 that sickened five people in three states who ate at Chipotle restaurants.
The company has hired Seattle’s IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, a respected food-safety consulting firm, to implement new food testing and preparation guidelines.
The firm’s stock fell 30 percent in December after the food scares. Last week, the company said in a regulatory filing that it was asked to produce documents in connection with a criminal investigation led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the federal Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.
Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said in an email Monday that the company doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits.