Second Chipotle E. Coli Outbreak Highlights Struggle to Find Source of Bacteria
By: Janson Fisher, Xiro Xone News December 22, 2015
Another E. coli outbreak tied to Chipotle restaurants has show the difficulty in discovering the source of the outbreak as its fresh produce and food supply chains come under intense scrutiny.
Now Five people have been reported with E. coli in an outbreak last month linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). None of those sickened, after eating at Chipotle restaurants in Kansas and Oklahoma, was hospitalized and all showed symptoms from Nov. 18, 2015, to Nov. 26, 2015.
This particular strain of E. coli has a different DNA profile from the previous outbreak of E. coli related to the restaurant chain where 53 people were sickened from Oct. 19, 2015, to Nov. 14, 2015, the CDC says. Officials are still investigating the source of both outbreaks and whether they are at all related.
A spokesman for the Denver-based restaurant chain says the restaurant is now implementing "high-resolution testing of ingredients, end of shelf-life testing of ingredients, continuous improvement in the supply system based on testing data, and enhanced food safety training,".
"With all of these programs in place, we are confident that we can achieve a level of food safety risk that is near zero.”
Founder and Chairman Steve Ells has says the company just 68 ingredients total, including tomatoes and corn in the salsa and lettuce that are used raw. Experts say various parts of the Chipotle food supply will be under intense scrutiny, including where its fresh produce originates and how employees prepare food, as officials continue to search for the source of the outbreak.
However, Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease physician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland,
points out that the fresh food could have already been contaminated before it left the supplier and that some suppliers can use produce from multiple farms and if something is contaminated, the result can be wide-reaching problems for consumers.
"It can create a large bottleneck from lots of farms and goes to one distribution and sends it out to entire regions of U.S.," Esper explained, of how large suppliers can mix together produce from multiple farms.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said the genetic differences between the bacteria in these two E. coli outbreaks were slight, but that it remains unclear whether they were related. He said Chipotle will have to rethink its entire supply chain to keep customers safe and not have to cook virtually all food to ensure its safety.
"If you cook food thoroughly, you’ll kill all pathogens before it arrived at the restaurant. However, virtually every restaurant chain provides some food that’s not cooked," Schaffner explained. "If that food is fresh produce, then you’re dependent on the whole chain going from the farm to the distributor to maintain the integrity of the food."