Number of illnesses revised in Chipotle E.coli outbreak

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Investigations to determine the food source of the STEC O26 outbreak are ongoing
Investigations to determine the food source of the STEC O26 outbreak are ongoing

Related tags Ill people Chipotle mexican grill Escherichia coli

The number of ill people in the E. coli outbreak from Chipotle restaurants has been cut from 50 to 37, by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In an update last week it said 50 ill people had been reported (31 from Washington and 19 from Oregon) but this week that figure was revised to 37 (24 from Washington and 13 from Oregon).

Thirteen people were hospitalized in Washington (9) and Oregon (4) but there have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or deaths.

When asked why the numbers had changed the agency said: “The CDC is now only reporting ill people that have been confirmed by PulseNet as being infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26.

“There are additional illnesses that were part of the 50 that Washington and Oregon were reporting previously that are still being investigated/undergoing laboratory testing and may be confirmed as the investigation continues.”

There have been no infections with the outbreak strain of STEC O26 in Washington or Oregon since Chipotle Mexican Grill closed in the Pacific Northwest on October 30, said the agency.

Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in other locations are not affected by the outbreak.

It added the investigation is still ongoing​ to determine if the ill people ate a meal item or ingredient in common that was served at the locations.

Chipotle Mexican Grill action

Chipotle Mexican Grill reopened its restaurants in Washington and in the Portland, Oregon area that had been closed.

The FDA and county health departments in Washington and Oregon collected 72 product samples, which the FDA tested for E coli and all tested negative.

Chipotle said more than 2,500 tests of food, restaurant surfaces, and equipment confirmed no E. coli and no employees in the restaurants had E. coli.

It has replaced all ingredients in the closed restaurants, done additional deep cleaning and sanitization in all restaurants nationwide and tested fresh produce, raw meat, and dairy items (cheese and sour cream) prior to restocking restaurants.

Chipotle said it was working with health department officials to determine the cause of the issue.

“At this point no cause has been established between this issue and any ingredient. Chipotle has been conducting food and environmental testing in these restaurants and testing food at our distribution center.

“However, determining the cause of these types of incidents is often extremely difficult. In fact, there are many past incidents at other food companies whose cause has never been determined.

This is primarily due to the gap in time between when ingredients are eaten and when illnesses arise.

“Often the potentially offending ingredients are no longer available for testing because by the time illnesses are reported, these ingredients have already been used up and are no longer in the restaurants.”

It has also retained two consulting firms (including IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group) to help assess and improve upon standards for food safety.

Canada outbreak and Blue Bell update

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has updated on an outbreak of Salmonella Infantis​ but has not found a source.

There are 51 cases in British Columbia (3), Alberta (9), Saskatchewan (2), Manitoba (2), Ontario (26), Quebec (7) Nova Scotia (1), and New Brunswick (1).

Individuals became sick between June 12 and November 4 and 10 people have been hospitalized, with no deaths reported. 

It said a source of the illnesses has not been identified but the investigation is ongoing.

In other news, Blue Bell Ice Cream will begin phase three of five in its market re-entry plan on December 14. Phase three includes the remaining majority of Texas and central and southern Alabama.

To begin this phase, Blue Bell will bring back 215 employees put on paid furlough earlier this year.

Blue Bell products were linked to an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes which affected 10 people in four states and is believed to have been a contributing factor in three deaths​ .

Ricky Dickson, VP of sales and marketing, said this phase is the largest so far.

“We continue to fill stores in phase two but we can now focus our attention on the addition of phase three beginning December 14.

“Our Broken Arrow (Oklahoma) and Sylacauga (Alabama) production facilities have been in operation for several months now allowing us to build our inventory. And, we look to have our Brenham facility back in operation soon.

“We want to make sure that we can properly service each account with an adequate supply of products before moving to the next phase.” 

Blue Bell is producing five flavors in the half gallon and pint sizes: Buttered Pecan, Cookies ’n Cream, Dutch Chocolate, Homemade Vanilla and The Great Divide. More flavors will be added in the future.

12-pak Homemade Vanilla Cups and 12-pak Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate Cups are also available. 

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