Although Chipotle appeared to be on the queso-paved road to recovering from the devastating food-borne illness incidents that rocked the burrito chain in late 2015, it looks like the company is facing a significant setback on Tuesday with reports of severe illness at one of its restaurants. That's right: people have fallen sick after eating at Chipotle again.
Chipotle said it temporarily closed a restaurant in the Washington, DC, suburb of Sterling, Virginia on Monday after learning of reports that several customers became sick after eating there last Friday and Saturday, according to a report by the Associated Press. The company said it plans to reopen the restaurant as soon as Tuesday, after conducting a "complete sanitization." Meanwhile, the burrito-purveyor's stock is tanking -- down more than 6% as of the early afternoon -- in response to the news.
As many as 13 customers said they experienced symptoms such as vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and dehydration after dining at the restaurant, and as Business Insider reports, at least one person was hospitalized. Chipotle said the reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus, the same illness that led to similar closures in recent years, but that it's currently working with local health officials to determine the exact cause.
"We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible," Chipotle's Executive Director of Food Safety Jim Marsden said, per the BI story. "The reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus. Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle."
When reached by email on Tuesday, the Loudoun County Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the shuttered restaurant, confirmed officials are investigating the incident but could not yet say for certain the cause of the illness was norovirus. Chipotle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We are working with the facility to actively investigate the situation," David Goodfriend, the department's director, said. "At this point we cannot confirm the cause of the individuals’ complaints. Norovirus is the most common cause of food related outbreaks, so is part of the consideration. If testing can be performed, we would likely find those results later this week."
In case you're wondering at this point, norovirus is no joke. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, the highly contagious illness often involves symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting and it's the leading cause of illness outbreaks from contaminated food in the US. Food workers who are sick with norovirus are frequently the source of the outbreaks, according to the health agency.
The restaurant closure comes after more than a year of various efforts at Chipotle to lure customers back into its stores and financially recover from the 2015 E. coli and norovirus incidents, including the rollout of dozens of new food safety measures, several deals for free burritos, and even a few new menu items. So, on the bright side, maybe this latest incident will result in more free burrito deals.