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article imageChipotle shares plummet as E. coli now reported in six states

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 23, 2015 in Health
The E. coli outbreak that sickened dozens of customers who had eaten at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Oregon and Washington has now made its way to three more states.
This brings the total up to six states that have been affected.
The illness was initially reported in the Northwest, with Chipotle temporarily closing 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon. In Minnesota, two cases were reported, according to Mashable. Additional cases have popped up in California, New York, and Ohio, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports.
So far, 45 people have been sickened, with 16 hospitalized after eating at Chipotle Mexican Grills.
Shares in the chain have tumbled by 12.4 to the lowest they have been in 18 months, Reuters reports.
Federal health officials believe it's likely a menu item or ingredient at Chipotle is the source of the outbreak, but they haven't determined as yet which food is linked, TakePart reports. All except two of the 45 people infected said they ate at a Chipotle restaurant within a week of noticing E. coli symptoms, which can cause diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.
The update by federal officials comes three weeks after the chain announced the voluntary closing of 43 restaurants to conduct sanitation and environmental testing after the outbreak was linked to eight locations, which was initially reported in October. Those restaurants were reopened on Nov. 10 after testing showed that each tested negative for E. coli and posed no further threat.
"We take this incident very seriously because the safety of our food and well-being of our customers is always our highest priority," said Steve Ells, Chipotle's co-chief executive, in a press release.
This has been a tough year for Chipotle regarding food-borne illnesses. Two lawsuits from recent incidents are looming, ThinkProgress notes. More than 100 people at a Chipotle in Simi Valley, CA, were sickened by norovirus (usually called stomach flu) in August. That same month, 45 people in Minnesota were sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes that were traced to 22 different Chipotle locations.
Escherichia coli is common, but it is a fairly diverse kind of bacteria. Some strains don't cause any harm, and live in the human body, while others cause diarrhea and vomiting. It's killed by heat, so this latest outbreak will probably be traced to a vegetable or other unheated product on the restaurant chain's menu.
The CDC reports that the E. coli strain linked to this recent outbreak is the shiga toxin-producing E. coli 026 (STEC 026), which occurs when these bacteria make toxins, and its among the most common types of illness, Mashable reports.
The two most common symptoms produced by STEC are abdominal cramps and diarrhea, and they usually appear within three or four days after a person eats contaminated food. People with weakened immune systems can be affected more severely as this can lead to a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This usually affects children and adults. HUS symptoms include fever, fatigue, and unexpected bruises, or bleeding from the nose or mouth, the CDC reports.
There have been no cases of HUS or deaths reported in the Chipotle outbreak.
In recent years, incidence of foodborne illnesses have picked up sharply. According to the CDC, major multi-state outbreaks have tripled over the past two decades, ThinkProgress reports. There are three reasons for this: First, tracking and reporting have improved, so illnesses that might have slipped under the radar are now being picked up before they have a chance to become larger outbreaks. But it's the other two reasons that are the most worrisome. Industrial agriculture and our now-globalized food chain mean that bacteria from processing plants touches more food and can be more broadly distributed.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, established in 2011 was supposed to give the Food and Drug Administration powers to help keep tainted food away from the public. This also allowed the FDA to issue mandatory recalls. However, much of this law's thunder has been stolen by Congress, which keeps under-funding programs. The FDA has received less than half of the $580 million that estimates say is necessary to prevent more foodborne illnesses.
Mashable reports that it isn't clear whether the outbreak is linked on to Chipotle Mexican Grills, or if contaminated food may have been distributed to other chains as well. It has reached out to the CDC for clarification.
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