Here’s The Latest On Chipotle’s Foodborne Illness Nightmare

Image courtesy of Josh Bassett

Between rodents falling from the ceilings to customers falling ill after eating at the fast casual chain, the last few weeks haven’t been exactly kind to Chipotle, and they don’t appear to be getting any better: Another customer has tested positive for norovirus after eating at one of the company’s Virginia locations. 

Health officials in Virginia confirmed on Monday that a second person who reported becoming ill after dining at the Sterling restaurant has norovirus.

The Loudon Country Health Department says it has identified more than 135 individuals who reported becoming ill after visit the Chipotle location between July 13 and July 16.

“Two ill patrons have tested positive for the same strain of norovirus. Based on symptoms reported and these preliminary laboratory results, the cause of the outbreak is believed to be norovirus, though the specific source of the norovirus has not yet been identified,” Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Health Department, said.

Norovirus differs from contaminations like E.coli and salmonella, as it doesn’t originate in food.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, 70% of outbreaks originate when a sick person serves food. The virus can also spread to people who happen to be in a room where someone with the virus vomits.

Getting Sick

The Sterling restaurant temporarily closed July 17 amid reports that diners had become ill.

“The Health Department is not aware of any customers becoming ill since the reopening of the facility last Wednesday.”

Eight reports on the site indicated 13 customers fell sick after eating at the restaurant between July 14 and July 15.

In all, customers reported “vomiting violently” and “violent stomach cramps” for several days after eating at the restaurant. At least one person made two trips to the hospital.

The restaurant reopened two days later, after Chipotle executives said that cleaning crews thoroughly sanitized all surfaces in the restaurant.

Conspiracy Theories

Although Loudon county health officials have not pinpointed a source of the recent norovirus outbreak, that hasn’t stopped some analysts and other from chiming in with their thoughts, specifically those surrounding corporate sabotage.

The theory — which first cropped up when Chipotle was dealing with a spate of foodborne illness outbreaks nearly two years ago — suggests that the chain’s issues are all a ploy by short sellers.

Short sellers are investors who borrows stock on the belief that the price will decline. They sell the stock, and then when the stock does decline they rebuy it at a lower price.

Aaron Allen, principal at Aaron Allen & Associates, tells Bloomberg that the issues at Chipotle might be more than just coincidence.

“A lot of things stacked up that made it suspicious and when you look at it from a statistical point of view, even more suspicious,” he said, noting that Chipotle short sellers could make as much as $459 million, compared to the $55 million they would have taken home before the recent foodborne illness issue.

For instance, Allen notes that the norovirus issue came at an odd time, as most such contaminations occur during the winter months. Additionally, he points out that more people typically become ill when there’s a foodborne problem at Chipotle than at other restaurants.

“We’re not saying this as a definitive,” he tells Bloomberg. “But if you were a short seller and you were looking for where there would be the most financial gain in the restaurant industry, the best way is a food safety scare, and the best stock would be Chipotle.”

A rep for Chipotle tells Bloomberg that the company is aware of the theories, but did “not see any evidence to support them.”

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