Chipotle voluntarily closed all its Washington restaurants and some in the Portland area as officials investigate an E. coli outbreak. Eight people have been hospitalized.
All Chipotle restaurants in Washington state are closed as health officials investigate an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning linked to sites in Washington and Oregon.
At least 22 people have been sickened with the E. coli bacteria, including 19 in Washington and three in the Portland area, health officials reported Saturday. Eight have been hospitalized, officials announced at a Seattle news conference. No deaths have been reported.
In Washington, 17 of the 19 who have been sickened ate at a Chipotle restaurant, leading state health officials to believe a food product at the Mexican food chain may be the source of the infections. But Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said officials do not yet know what specific food item was contaminated. Those who became sick had eaten at Chipotles in mid-October.
Interviews with victims to determine which particular food may be linked to the outbreak are continuing.
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Many people in Washington may remember E. coli O157:H7, as the bacteria linked to ground beef from Jack in the Box restaurants that infected hundreds and killed three in the 1990s, but Duchin said most of the recent E. coli outbreaks have been associated with produce.
The culprit of this outbreak appears to be Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria, according to Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington state’s epidemiologist for infectious disease. But tests to identify the specific strain of the potentially dangerous bug are not complete.
During Saturday’s news conference, Dr. Marisa D’Angeli, an epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, said the investigation could take days to weeks.
In Washington, nine cases have been reported in Clark County, four in King County, five in Skagit County and one in Cowlitz County, state health officials said in a release. People also have reported symptoms in Oregon’s Clackamas and Washington counties, health officials said.
Of the four cases reported in King County, says Public Health — Seattle & King County, two are teenagers and two are in their 20s. Two of the four were hospitalized.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. spokesman Chris Arnold said the company was notified by health officials that they were investigating E. coli cases that included people who became sick after eating at six restaurants.
“We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems,” Arnold said in a statement.
By Saturday morning, the company had voluntarily closed 43 Chipotle sites in the two states, but did not respond to requests for specific locations or a count of how many of those locations are in Washington.
Duchin said three of the Chipotle restaurants identified as possibly involved in the outbreak were in King County. He declined to specify the locations.
“All we know are those are outlets where we have cases associated currently, and I don’t want to give the impression that those are the only ones that might be affected,” he said during the news conference.
Arnold said the safety and well-being of customers is always the company’s highest priority and it will work with health officials to find the cause of the problem and to determine when to reopen the restaurants.
Officials with the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been called in to help with the investigation.
Anyone with bloody diarrhea, or anyone with diarrhea who ate at a Chipotle in mid- October should see their health-care provider, D’Angeli said during the news conference.
More than 60 people in Minnesota who ate at Chipotle restaurants last summer were sickened by a salmonella outbreak tied to tomatoes, state health officials reported. In August, an outbreak of norovirus sickened 80 customers and 13 employees at a Chipotle in Ventura County, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reported.
E. coli infections can be particularly dangerous to young children and the elderly. Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Health officials say the best defense against the bacterial illness is to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.