Boston Chipotle transmits norovirus to students, working to improve food safety

Thomas Chan and Angela Park

Up to 141 Boston College students have fallen sick after eating at a local Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. The students were reported to experience vomiting and diarrhea. According to this Wall Street Journal article, norovirus was found to be present in the food.

This was not the first time people have been sickened after eating Chipotle’s food. Earlier this year, E. Coli bacteria was found in Chipotle restaurants in nine other states, explaining the 52 people suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms.

NBC News reports that Boston health officials closed the Cleveland Circle location after inspecting the restaurant and finding many health violations. Officials found that the cooked chicken used in the food was kept at “too low a temperature” and that a working employee showed signs of illness.

An anonymous Chipotle service manager states that he believes the two incidents are unrelated. The source went on to comment on the new food safety regulations.

“I know Chipotle has always put a high importance on food safety and quality,” the Chipotle service manager said. “And like I mentioned before, since the initial incidents occurred, Chipotle has been implementing improvements on our practices and are continuing to look for ways to improve that will make us leaders in food safety.”

According to this ABC News article, Chipotle CEO Steven Ells has apologized for the outbreaks, and Chipotle has announced that it’s working to improve food safety.

Chipotle recently posted new updates to the safety precautions. Chipotle will now use DNA-based tests to ensure ingredient quality before shipment to restaurants. Their new testing program “far exceeds requirements of state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as industry standards.” Chipotle has also initiated testing to ensure that ingredients maintain quality specifications throughout its shelf life.

Chipotle states that it will continue to improve through data from the test results to “measure the performance of each of its vendors and suppliers.” They will also improve training at restaurant locations and ensure understanding of food safety and handling standards.

Wayland High School students have a range of opinions on the issue. Some, including senior Stephanie Hsu, are thinking twice about returning to the restaurant. The Shopper’s World Chipotle refused to comment.

“Just to be safe, I might stop going to Chipotle for a month or two until this E. Coli thing has passed,” Hsu said.

Others will continue to patronize the restaurant.

“To be honest I didn’t really mind that much,” sophomore Muntasir Shahabuddin said. “I think it was the kind of thing where as soon as they knew it was becoming a problem and being publicized, they would fix it, so it doesn’t affect my choice to eat there.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis and foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States. “Each year, [norovirus] causes 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths.”

Norovirus and E. Coli share many symptoms, including diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, but norovirus is far more likely than E. coli to cause vomiting.