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Chipotle Issued Criminal Subpoena Over Norovirus Outbreak

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 13, 2016 10:06 AM

Federal prosecutors served Chipotle with a subpoena as part of a criminal investigation into the restaurant's involvement in norovirus outbreak last year. The Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration opened the investigation after E. coli outbreaks sickened hundreds of Chipotle customers.

Chipotle's in-store sales and share prices have been plummeting since multiple norovirus outbreaks occurred last fall in California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington.

Food Crimes

A subpoena is a formal request for an appearance, testimony, or evidence pertaining to a legal proceeding. The documents requested by the DOJ and FDA are related to an E. coli outbreak at a Simi Valley, California Chipotle that sickened over 200 people, including 17 of the chain's employees. Federal investigators are also interviewing Ventura County health officials about the outbreak.

Reuters is reporting that on August 24th of last year, even after managers shut down the Simi Valley location, disposed of all remaining food, and disinfected cooking surfaces, health inspectors cited multiple code violations, like unclean equipment and restroom facilities. And on August 27th, a follow-up inspection revealed that at least some of the "violations observed on previous inspections have not been corrected."

Food Charges

Once the investigation is complete, the case will be turned over to a grand jury who will decide whether to file criminal charges. Last year, five peanut plant executives were sentenced to prison for their roles in a deadly salmonella outbreak.

Some of those sickened in California also suing the restaurant chain. One such customer, Alyssa McDonald, alleged that she vomited repeatedly and developed "explosive diarrhea," after eating at the Simi Valley location, and the Ventura County Health Department found her stool tested positive for norovirus.

Chipotle declined to comment on possible criminal charges or the lawsuit, but said that it will cooperate with investigators.

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