Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. suspects norovirus may be the cause of the gastrointestinal illnesses that led to the temporary closure Monday of a Boston College restaurant, the company said Tuesday.
The Denver-based fast-casual operator and Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials suspect the illnesses may be linked to norovirus and not related to the multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants in six other states.
“Health officials in Boston seem to believe this is a norovirus, which seems consistent with the pattern in our estimation,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold wrote in an email.
By noon Wednesday, Boston Public Health authorities had confirmed the presence of norovirus among Boston College students. College spokesman Jack Dunn wrote in an email: "Since late Sunday evening, more than 120 BC students have reported to BC Health Services with symptoms consistent with the norovirus. Nearly all of the 120 students confirmed that they had eaten at the Chipotle restaurant in Cleveland Circle during the past weekend.” The tests for E. coli had not been completed, Dunn said, but the college was focusing on a norovirus outbreak.
Several members of the college’s basketball team were among the students who fell ill after dining at the college’s Cleveland Circle restaurant.
Noroviruses are more common than E. coli and easily transmitted through person-to-person contact, contaminated surface areas, and through food and drink. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or cramps, diarrhea, low-grade fever and muscle pain.
“The safety and well being of our customers is always our highest priority, so our restaurant at Cleveland Circle in Boston is temporarily closed while we work with local health officials to investigate a number of illnesses among Boston College students,” the company said in a statement.
“We do not have any evidence to suggest that this incident is related the previous E. coli incident,” the company said. “There are no confirmed cases of E. coli connected to Chipotle in Massachusetts.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked at least 47 E. coli infections over the past two months to Chipotle restaurants in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington.
Chipotle said last Friday that it planned to take aggressive steps, including DNA-based tests on produce, to ensure the quality and safety of all produce.
Chipotle also said the foodborne illness outbreaks in the second half of the year were leading it to lower its same-store sales outlook for the brand’s fourth quarter by 8 percent to 11 percent.
As of Sept. 30, the company owned and operated 1,895 Chipotle restaurants in the United States, as well as 11 Chipotle units in Canada, seven in England, three in France and one in Germany. The company also has 11 fast-casual ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen restaurants, and has invested in three Pizzeria Locale restaurants.
Update: Dec. 8, 2015 This story has been updated with reports of more cases.
Update: Dec. 9, 2015 This story has been updated with additional information and a statement from Boston College.