A Chipotle restaurant in Sterling, VA, was forced to close after at least 13 people came down with food poisoning caused by Norovirus.It seems like just yesterday Chipotle was in the news for getting its customers sick, but that scandal actually took place over a year ago. The company spent much of 2016 trying to revamp their image and restore customer confidence after a string of E. coli transmissions ravaged 14 different Chipotle restaurants a little less than two years ago. Chipotle was forced to start running advertisements -- which they had seldom ever done -- and launched a customer loyalty promotion last summer to get people back in the door. All that progress, however, may have just been undone. A Chipotle restaurant in Sterling, VA, has now been closed after at least 13 people reported getting food poisoning from the chain's Mexican fare on Friday and Saturday of last week. One diner wrote on iwaspoisoned.com that their party became ill after eating at the Sterling, Virginia, Chipotle on Friday, explaining that their daughter became "violently sick" and suffered from "puking, diarrhea, severe pain, overnight into Sunday." Another member of their party was severely dehydrated and rushed to the emergency room. Another diner reported that he and his wife spent Saturday and Sunday "puking [their] brains out." Others posted that they were "violently vomiting" and that the symptoms were the worst they have ever seen. The company is hopeful that damage will be limited to just this store. While the E. coli outbreak in 2015 was traced to sourced produce and food handling procedures, the Norovirus suspected in the Sterling restaurant operates differently. Norovirus does not naturally originate in food. It can only be transmitted by employees who are ill, most commonly when food service workers do not fully wash their hands after using the bathroom. In December of 2015, close to 120 Boston College students fell ill after contracting Norovirus at a Chipotle restaurant near their campus. As gross as that sounds, the silver lining is that it is likely not something endemic to the other 2,249 restaurants. In fact, the company is hopeful that the Sterling restaurant will re-open later today. Chipotle's corporate office released a statement on the restaurant closing.
Chipotle's commitment to serving freshly made foods has always put their restaurants at risk for contamination. The commitment to fast casual dining -- with ingredients out-front in view of customers -- makes it difficult to keep prepared foods hot or cold enough. Without preservatives, proper food storage becomes even more important. This is part of the reason why Chipotle has held off on rolling out queso menu offerings. They were not confident that they could make fresh queso and safely store it. At the time of this posting, Chipotle's stock (CMG) was down $24/share, or a little more than six percent on the day, and hovering just above the day's low.
We are aware of a small number of reported illnesses isolated to a single restaurant in Sterling, Virginia on Tripleseven Road, and have notified local health department officials. We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. The reported symptoms are consistent with Norovirus. Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle. We plan to reopen the restaurant today.
We take every report of illness seriously. In accordance with our established protocols, our team is working to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, including voluntarily closing the restaurant yesterday to conduct a complete sanitization."