On Halloween, Washington state residents got a scary message from their health department. An E. coli outbreak there has been linked to Chipotle restaurants. The chain had shut down more than 40 locations in Washington and Oregon over the week.
"The restaurants under investigation are linked to 19 cases of E. coli illnesses in Washington," the Washington Department of Health announced in a statement issued on Saturday. Three more cases were reported from Oregon, also associated with the restaurant chain. Seven of the Washington patients and one Oregon patient were hospitalized. There have been no deaths.
The State Epidemiologist Speaks
"Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in the past three weeks should consult their healthcare provider," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. "The elderly and very young children are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection."
E. coli is a serious threat but it is not deadly in and of itself. The problem is that it can lead to deadly complications. Some types of E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting. Those can sometimes result in severe, life-threatening illness and may be fatal, says the Washington DOH.
The threat from E. coli is eliminated with thorough cooking, which prevents bacteria.
Chipotle Responds Cautiously
According to Chipotle representative Chris Arnold, the people who got sick ate at six different Chipotle restaurants, MSNBC reported.
The Chipotle Communications Director said in a statement, "The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our highest priority. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."
Chipotle closed so many restaurants in an abundance of caution, it said, and it will reportedly open them as the investigation allows. The company is cooperating with health officials. Washington and Oregon health departments are working together with federal officials at the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.