Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle is facing an E. coli crisis. After closing 43 stores in Washington and Oregon earlier this month when dozens of customers fell sick, the company is now facing concerns over outbreaks of the bacteria in locations all across the country.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated this afternoon (Nov. 20) that 45 people in six states—Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Ohio, California, and New York—have been infected with the same strain of E. coli, with 43 of those people having eaten at a Chipotle the week before falling ill. “The epidemiologic evidence available at this time suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak,” the center said in a statement.
In the wake of the CDC’s announcement, Chipotle’s shares took a steep nosedive.
Chipotle, with its strict food standards and disciplined management approach, has been one of the fastest-growing chains in the US in recent years. But the ongoing E. coli outbreak—which CDC investigators say they have not yet been able to link to any particular food item—could threaten that growth.
Just a few months ago, 100 people became sick with norovirus after eating at a Chipotle in California. Weeks later, more than 60 people fell ill from a batch of bad tomatoes at a Chipotle in Minnesota. All these incidents, while isolated, do add up to significant loss for the company—both financially and reputationally.