Unsafe food storage faulted in Chipotle illnesses

Chipotle restaurant workers fill orders for customers

A recent outbreak of illness at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in OH that affected hundreds of people was caused by a type of bacteria, local health officials said on Thursday.

Ohio's Delaware General Health District staff identified 647 people who self-reported gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming food from a Chipotle on Sawmill Parkway, near Columbus, between July 26 and July 30, the agency said Thursday.

Stool samples taken from sick customers tested positive for Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning when food is stored at unsafe temperatures, according to the Delaware General Health District, the public health department in Delaware, Ohio. As of now, no specific food item has been named.

Chipotle's leadership will retrain restaurant employees nationwide about food safety and wellness protocols during working hours starting next week, company spokeswoman Laurie Schalow via email.

The resulting illnesses are fairly common and affect almost 1 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Though not as severe as Chipotle's food safety lapses in 2015 that sickened customers with E. coli and salmonella, the outbreak in OH is a headache for CEO Brian Niccol, who has been trying to fix Chipotle's reputation.

He also said restaurants would be adding a "recurring employee knowledge assessment" to their daily food-safety routines. No customers have reported getting sick after eating the restaurant since it reopened. Chipotle shares fell more than 4% Thursday afternoon.

"Once we identified this incident", he said, "we acted quickly to close the Powell restaurant and implemented our food safety response protocols that include total replacement of all food inventory and complete cleaning and sanitization of the restaurant". Specifically, with lettuce and beans not being properly cooled and warmed, respectively.

Health officials have inspected nearby Chipotle restaurants since the illness outbreak and found additional violations.

The CDC notes that the toxin usually develops when someone eats food that has been stored at the wrong temperature after cooking.

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