Chipotle Mexican Grill has temporarily closed 43 restaurants in the Pacific Northwest after health officials linked an E. coli outbreak to the chain.
About two dozen people have gotten sick so far, and officials say they expect a jump in the case count as others are tested. So far, about one-third of patients have been hospitalized.
Chipotle is a favorite among “fast-casual” restaurants because of its long-standing commitment to using fresher, locally sourced food, and fewer processed ingredients. What’s not to love about that?
It’s the third time this year the fresh-Mex restaurant has run into trouble with food-borne illness. In August, a Chipotle location in California was closed for deep cleaning after 80 customers and 18 employees got the gut-churning norovirus. The same month, 17 Chipotle locations and 64 customers in Minnesota were affected by an outbreak of salmonella, which was later traced to tomatoes.
Chipotle did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the cause of the current outbreak hasn’t yet been identified. But a spokesman for the Oregon Public Health Division told USA Today that interviews with victims are pointing to some kind of produce as the source.
Is it the fresh ingredients? Until all the facts are sorted out, it’s hard to say, but it could be, says Elizabeth Scott, PhD, co-director of the Center for Health and Hygiene at Simmons College in Boston.
Food is processed for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest ones is to kill harmful germs. Food preservation methods that use high heat, like canning, make food safer, she says.
“The less processed the food, the greater the risk that there will be pathogens consumed,” she says.
Fresh food may taste better, but it is also riskier to eat.
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