Chipotle E. Coli Outbreak Sickens Several More People — Should We Be Worried About Our Food Supply?

Chipotle E. coli spreads into several more states.

As some have feared, the Chipotle E. coli outbreak is expanding. Seven more cases of people becoming ill by the bacteria have been found, four of which are directly linked to the burrito restaurant chain.

More cases of E. coli have been found linked to Chipotle.
This is not the same strain that sickened several people after eating chicken salad from Costco Wholesale in October. As reported previously by the Inquisitr, several nationwide retailers including Costco, Target, and Starbucks were forced to remove thousands of products from shelves after 19 people came down with an E. coli infection.

The chicken salad source of E. coli strain, 0157:H7, has since been linked to vegetables packaged by produce supplier, Taylor Farms Pacific. After testing several samples, health authorities found an onion and celery mix was the source. The blend is used by many food companies in products like chicken salad, vegetable trays, and sandwiches.

The Huffington Post is reporting that the E. coli bacteria known as 026 linked to Chipotle has been found in Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Restaurants in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington have already been named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the outbreak.

The exact source of the E. coli strain is still to be determined. Like the recent vegetable contamination that affected Costco and other major retailers, the CDC suspects a produce item is the likely cause.

So far, 47 cases of E. coli infection have been attributed to Chipotle. The stock market reacted on Friday by sending the burrito chain’s share price even further down to $552.91. The company also lowered its 2016 sales expectations.

“Future sales trends may be significantly influenced by further developments, including potential additional announcements from federal and state health authorities,” Chipotle said in a recent SEC filing.

Chipotle's employees are getting better training in food safety.
In response, the company is revamping food safety procedures. Part of the plan is to test all fresh produce just before it is sent out to restaurants as well as keeping track of performance data from vendors and suppliers. The company also intends to implement a more enhanced food safety and handling training program for employees.

Not including legal costs from lawsuits, the Mexican grill anticipates spending between $6 million and $8 million to replace inventory, food sample testing, and advisor consultations.

Chris Arnold, Chipotle spokesman, is trying to reassure customers that it is safe to eat at the restaurant again. “While no cause has been identified, none of the ingredients that were in our restaurants at the time of this incident are still in our restaurants,” he wrote in an email.

E. coli is found inside the human body and typically doesn’t cause any problems. However, some strains can bring on severe sickness and be life-threatening. Symptoms of an infection usually start within two to three days once the bacteria enter the body.

When someone becomes ill from a foodborne disease, it is often difficult to determine a source. If a person eats different food items during a meal and several of the items include the same ingredient, investigators find it hard to isolate which specific ingredient is contaminated.

Infectious disease expert, Dr. William Schaffner, spoke with ABC News about the difficulty with determining the exact source of the Chipotle E. coli outbreak.

“What you really need in order for the finger to be pointed at the source is for people to eat different things: People who eat A get sick and people eat B do not. Many of the ingredients, lettuce for example, can be on any number of different products.”

The CDC reports that approximately 48 million Americans fall ill from foodborne diseases. Unfortunately, the source of the disease is only found in about 40 percent of the cases, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Chipotle one of many companies affected by E. coli outbreaks.
Over the past few weeks, several large companies, like Chipotle and Costco, have been affected by E. coli contamination. These companies have reacted by improving food safety standards and protocols, but is it enough?

With more and more cases of E. coli contamination being reported, should we be worried about the safety of our food supply?

[Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images]