Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is deep-cleaning restaurants and replacing all food items at units closed throughout Washington and Oregon as health officials search for the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 37 people.
In Washington, 25 cases were reported as of Tuesday. Of those, 23 said they had eaten at Chipotle before getting sick, health officials said. Nine of those cases were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.
In Oregon, the number of reported cases rose to 12 as of Tuesday, including three that were hospitalized, but no deaths.
Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 restaurants within the two states over the weekend in what company officials described as an overabundance of caution.
Initially, a Chipotle spokesman said only six restaurants were implicated, but the company said Tuesday that eight of its restaurants may be linked to the outbreak.
The company also described steps it was taking to assist investigators as they search for the specific cause:
The restaurants are undergoing a deep cleaning and full sanitation.
All food is being replaced, and ingredients are being batch tested before resupplying.
Two food safety consulting firms, including Seattle-based IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, have been hired to help the company assess and improve food-safety standards.
Environmental testing of both the restaurants and food, as well as distribution centers, is being conducted by health department officials, the company said.
“The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority,” Steve Ells, Chipotle chairman and co-CEO, said in a statement. “We work with a number of very fresh ingredients in order to serve our customers the highest-quality, best-tasting food we can. If there are opportunities to do better, we will push ourselves to find them and enhance our already high standards for food safety.
“Our deepest sympathies to out to those who have been affected by this situation and it is our greatest priority to ensure the safety of all of the food we serve and maintain our customers’ confidence in eating at Chipotle,” he added.
Denver-based Chipotle operates more than 1,900 restaurants, including 17 units outside the U.S.