Chipotle closes dozens of stores in Washington and Oregon in E. coli scare

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Chipotle has temporarily closed dozens of its restaurants in Washington and Oregon out of an abundance of caution after an E. coli scare.

No one has died in the reported cases of infection, the Washington State Department of Health said. Seven of the Washington patients and one Oregon patient were hospitalized.

Chris Collins of Portland, Oregon, went to an urgent care center two days after eating at a Chipotle restaurant. “I’ve never gotten sick like this,” he told CNN affiliate KATU. “The excruciating pain in my abdomen was something I’ve never experienced. It feels like your guts are being ripped out.”

The urgent care center sent him to a hospital emergency room.

Link to six stores

The source of contamination has yet to be exactly determined, the department said, but 19 cases in Washington and three cases in Oregon have been linked to a handful of locations of the Mexican-themed restaurant chain.

Although cases are being investigated in connection with six locations in the Seattle and Portland areas, Chipotle has temporarily closed 43 stores.

“We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems,” said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold in a statement. Chipotle is working with health departments to help determine the cause of the cases.

CDC on E. coli

Infections with Escherichia coli can cause severe stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea which is often bloody. Fever is usually low, if at all present, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infections can range from mild to life-threatening.

E. coli bacteria are commonly found in human and animal intestines and are a key component of healthy digestion. Most strains are harmless but some are not, according to the CDC. “Infections start … when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth,” it says.

This happens surprisingly often, the CDC says, and many times no infection results.

Common sources of infection are human and animal contact in the farming industry. In April, at least 25 people became ill with E. coli infections after visiting a dairy fair in Washington state.

But harmful E. coli can also make their way into food ingredients. Food handlers carrying harmful E. coli can pass the bacteria on by not thoroughly washing their hands before performing their work.

The CDC has investigated more than 20 major E. coli outbreaks since 2007. Other common foodborne ailments are caused by listeria and salmonella bacteria.

Chipotle’s stock falls after E. coli scare

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Chipotle temporarily closed dozens of its restaurants in Washington and Oregon to help stem the damage from an E. coli scare.

Chipotle’s stock fell as much as 5% after the stock market opened on Monday.

There is no timetable for when the stores will reopen, which means Chipotle could lose some sales and customers in the Pacific Northwest.

Twenty-two cases of E. coli were reported in Washington and Oregon. Eight people have been hospitalized, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Six Chipotle locations were linked to the outbreak and the chain chose to close 43 of its locations in the two states.

“We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution,” said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold in a statement.

The store closures come at a time when Chipotle grapples with slowing sales growth. The restaurant chain reported its worst sales growth in over two years in October.

Sales grew 12% in the third quarter, compared to a much faster clip of 31% in the same period of last year.

Sales at Chipotle restaurants open for at least a year — called same store sales — rose only 2.6% in the quarter, their lowest point in two years.

The 43 restaurants that remain closed now in Washington and Oregon make up just 2% of the total of 1,931 Chipotle locations nationwide.

But the greater risk is that the scare will keep customers away from Chipotle restaurants in other states too.

The stock peaked at $758 in early August, and now it’s down to $616 a share.

Investors have been concerned about how pricey Chipotle’s stock is. Its price-to-earnings ratio is 36, higher than McDonalds (24), Panera (30) and some other restaurant chains.

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