The burrito chain just suffered another setback in its effort to rebuild consumer confidence in the safety of its food.

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

March 10, 2016

2 Min Read
Suspected Norovirus Illnesses Deal Another Setback to Chipotle, But Restaurant Reopens

Last month, Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells acknowledged in an earnings release that the fourth quarter of 2015 marked “the most challenging period" in the 22-year history of the company.

Ells, whose company opened its first restaurant in 1993, was planning to move beyond that difficult period. With the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) having concluded its probe into E.coli incidents linked to Chipotle, he said the company could focus on “implementing our enhanced food safety plan that will establish Chipotle as an industry leader in food safety."

But the burrito chain recently suffered another setback in its effort to rebuild consumer confidence in the safety of its food.

A restaurant in Billerica, Massachusetts closed Tuesday after it was suspected that employees had come down with norovirus. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told the Boston Globe that a number of employees reported feeling ill. 

Arnold and Scott Zoback, a spokesman with the Massachusetts Department of Health, did not immediately respond to requests for updated information.

But the restaurant was scheduled to reopen today. On Wednesday, the Billerica Board of Health reported three suspected cases of norovirus affecting Chipotle employees.

In a March 9 press release, the board of health said it conducted a follow-up inspection and concluded the restaurant “was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized."

“Management was informed that they would be allowed to resume operations on Thursday, March 10th once all food employees have been screened for norovirus before returning to work," the release noted.

Norovirus causes inflammation of the intestines or stomach or both, and common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain, according to the CDC. It is said to be highly contagious and the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Arnold told USA Today, “There are no confirmed customer illnesses connected to this incident."

Chipotle’s latest conundrum comes on the heels of a norovirus outbreak that impacted Boston College students at a restaurant in Brighton, Massachusetts. The outbreak there exacerbated the “adverse financial and operating impacts" that were caused by earlier E.coli incidents in the fall of 2015, Chipotle noted.

To complicate matters, Chipotle was served in December 2015 with a federal grand jury subpoena concerning an official criminal probe. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, in cooperation with FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, is conducting the investigation.

Under the subpoena, Chipotle must “produce a broad range of documents" concerning a restaurant in Simi Valley, California, the company noted in a regulatory filing. The restaurant was the subject of “an isolated norovirus incident during August 2015," the company said.

Denver-based Chipotle was later served with another subpoena broadening the probe and “requiring the production of documents and information related to company-wide food safety matters dating back to January 1, 2013," according to a more recent regulatory filing.

About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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