Chipotle to reopen Virginia restaurant after norovirus reports

FILE PHOTO - A Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc said it will reopen a Virginia restaurant on Wednesday, two days after it was closed due to reports that several customers had fallen ill with suspected norovirus.

Shares of the restaurant chain tumbled more than 4 percent on Tuesday after Chipotle reported the closure. The former high-flying chain is still fighting to repair its reputation and resuscitate its sales after a string of high-profile food safety lapses in late 2015.

Chipotle voluntarily closed the restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, on Monday, according to a health official for the Loudoun County Public Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the restaurant, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Washington.

About 13 people became sick last week, according to a website that follows incidents of foodborne illness. Test results are still pending.

Chipotle stock, which traded well above $700 prior to 2015 reports linking the chain to outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus, was off 1.4 percent at $369.56 on Wednesday.

“It is unfortunate that anyone became ill after visiting our restaurant, and when we learned of this issue, we took aggressive action to correct the problem and protect our customers,” Chipotle Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells said in a statement.

“While the restaurant was closed, multiple teams performed complete sanitization of all surfaces,” Ells said.

Norovirus, is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It can spread from person to person, as well as through food prepared by an infected person. It often hits closed environments such as daycare centers, schools and cruise ships. Most outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Chipotle shuts Virginia restaurant on norovirus worries, shares fall

Signage for a Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lisa Baertlein

(Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc <CMG.N> closed a restaurant in Virginia because of a suspected norovirus outbreak among some diners that sent its shares lower on Tuesday as the chain works to bounce back from past food-safety lapses.

Investors are keenly sensitive to reports of illness linked to Chipotle, which endured a string of sales-crushing E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks in late 2015.

Chipotle’s stock closed down 4.3 percent, or $17.02, at $374.98 on Tuesday after falling as low as $362.40. The shares were trading at nearly $750 before the company’s previous food-safety incidents, which battered the chain’s profits and reputation.

Chipotle said on Tuesday the reported symptoms were consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea.

“Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle,” Jim Marsden, Chipotle’s executive director for food safety, said in an emailed statement.

Chipotle’s plan to reopen the store on Tuesday had been delayed, spokesman Chris Arnold said. He did not immediately say when the restaurant would reopen.

The suspected illnesses were first reported by Business Insider earlier on Tuesday. It cited information from, a website on which consumers document what they believe are incidents of foodborne illness.

“In total, eight reports were made to the website, indicating that at least 13 customers fell sick after eating there from July 14-15,” the news site said.

Chipotle voluntarily closed the restaurant on Monday, said Victor Avitto, environmental health supervisor for the Loudoun County Public Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the restaurant on Tripleseven Road in Sterling, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Washington.

Test results are expected later this week, Avitto said.

Norovirus, known as the “winter vomiting bug,” is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can spread from person to person, as well as through food prepared by an infected person. It often hits closed environments such as daycare centers, schools and cruise ships. Most outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.

Chipotle will report second-quarter results on July 25.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)

Chipotle says hackers hit most restaurants in data breach

Signage for a Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lisa Baertlein

(Reuters) – Hackers used malware to steal customer payment data from most of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc’s <CMG.N> restaurants over a span of three weeks, the company said on Friday, adding to woes at the chain whose sales had just started recovering from a string of food safety lapses in 2015.

Chipotle said it did not know how many payment cards or customers were affected by the breach that struck most of its roughly 2,250 restaurants for varying amounts of time between March 24 and April 18, spokesman Chris Arnold said via email.

A handful of Canadian restaurants were also hit in the breach, which the company first disclosed on April 25.

Stolen data included account numbers and internal verification codes. The malware has since been removed.

The information could be used to drain debit card-linked bank accounts, make “clone” credit cards, or to buy items on certain less-secure online sites, said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The breach could once again threatens sales at its restaurants, which only recently recovered after falling sharply in late 2015 after Chipotle was linked to outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus that sickened hundreds of people.

An investigation into the breach found the malware searched for data from the magnetic stripe of payment cards.

Arnold said Chipotle could not alert customers directly as it did not collect their names and mailing addresses at the time of purchase.

The company posted notifications on the Chipotle and Pizzeria Locale websites and issued a news release to make customers aware of the incident.

Linn Freedman, an attorney at Robinson & Cole LLP specializing in data breach response, said Chipotle was putting the burden on the consumer to discover possible fraudulent transactions by notifying them through the websites.

“I don’t think you will get to all of the customers who might have been affected,” she said.

Security analysts said Chipotle would likely face a fine based on the size of the breach and the number of records compromised.

“If your data was stolen through a data breach that means you were somewhere out of compliance” with payment industry data security standards, Julie Conroy, research director at Aite Group, a research and advisory firm.

“In this case, the card companies will fine Chipotle and also hold them liable for any fraud that results directly from their breach,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president at Gartner Inc <IT.N> specializing in security and privacy.

Chipotle did not immediately comment on the prospect of a fine.

Retailer Target Corp <TGT.N> in 2017 agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle claims stemming from a massive data breach in late 2013.

Hotels and restaurants have also been hit. They include Trump Hotels, InterContinental Hotels Group <IHG.L> as well as Wendy’s <WEN.O>, Arby’s and Landry’s restaurants.

Shares in Chipotle Mexican Grill ended marginally lower at $480.15 on Friday following the announcement.

(Additional reporting by Natalie Grover and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru and Tom Polansek and Nandita Bose in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

Chipotle E. Coli outbreaks appear to be over, CDC says

Two E. Coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants appear to be over, officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it still doesn’t know what specific ingredient was behind the outbreaks, though it hasn’t received word of any illnesses since Dec. 1.

The CDC said 60 people in 14 states fell ill last October and November, and 22 were hospitalized. The organization interviewed 59 of those people, and 52 of them said they had eaten at Chipotle.

The CDC collected food from several Chipotle restaurants, though none of its tests showed signs of the bacteria. The organization said a food source is only identified in 46 percent of outbreaks, and it can be hard to determine the exact item responsible for the illnesses in cases where restaurants cook several ingredients together and serve them in different menu items.

According to the CDC, the first E. Coli outbreak affected 55 people in Washington, Oregon, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York Ohio and Pennsylvania. The second outbreak, which featured a different strain of the bacteria, sickened five people in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota. None of the 60 people died or developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that sometimes occurs following E. Coli infections.

Chipotle has said it has since implemented new food safety protocols, and announced earlier this month that it will close all of its restaurants for four hours on Feb. 8 for a food safety meeting.

The outbreaks were just a part of the recent struggles for Chipotle.

The restaurant also told investors earlier this month that it was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with an “isolated norovirus incident” in August at a California restaurant. The same message indicated a norovirus outbreak in December at a Boston restaurant “worsened the adverse financial and operating impacts” Chipotle experienced from the E. Coli outbreaks.

Norovirus and E. Coli are both foodborne illnesses that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, according to the CDC.

Chipotle’s stock was trading at $750.42 on Oct. 13, near an all-time high, but tumbled to $404.26 on Jan. 12 amid the E. Coli and norovirus concerns. That was a 54 percent drop.

The stock has rebounded slightly and was trading at $472.64 on Monday afternoon.

Chipotle hit with federal subpoena over California norovirus outbreak

(Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc <CMG.N>, under scrutiny for months over outbreaks of foodborne illness across several U.S. states, said on Wednesday it was served with a subpoena in a federal criminal probe linked to a norovirus case in California last year.

Shares of the burrito chain fell more than 5 percent to $424.95, their lowest in more than two years, as the Denver-based company grapples with a wave of norovirus and E. coli outbreaks that have sickened customers and battered sales.

The company in a filing also projected a 14.6 percent plunge in fourth-quarter same-store sales, compared with a previously estimated 8-11 percent drop, which would be the first such decline in the company’s history.

Chipotle said it received the subpoena as a part of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration. A federal grand jury will decide whether to press charges in the case.

Norovirus is the leading cause of food-related illnesses and outbreaks in the United States, often occurring when infected restaurant employees and food workers touch raw ingredients before serving. The highly contagious virus can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

The investigation announced on Wednesday is the latest headache for the company, which has seen sales slump after an E. coli outbreak sickened more than 50 people in nine states in October and November.

That outbreak was followed by a norovirus incident at a restaurant in Brighton, Massachusetts the week of Dec. 7, in which 120 Boston College students fell ill.


Chipotle said the subpoena was served in December. It requires the company to produce a broad range of documents related to the August norovirus incident at its restaurant in Simi Valley, California, which sickened more than 200 people, including 18 workers.

In September, two California residents sued Chipotle for damages in U.S. court after they said they became sick from eating at the Simi Valley location.

Alyssa McDonald vomited repeatedly, developed “explosive diarrhea,” and suffered chest pains after eating at restaurant, according to court documents. Another customer said she had to go to a hospital emergency room for days.

The Ventura County Health Department found her stool tested positive for norovirus, the lawsuit said.

Ventura County health official Doug Beach said his office was interviewed by the FDA and U.S. Attorney’s office in the fall. Authorities, he said, focused their lines of enquiry squarely on Chipotle.

A federal investigation into a one-restaurant outbreak is surprising since there wasn’t a clear interstate element, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who is representing customers saying they were sickened in Simi Valley.

The FDA declined to comment specifically on the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold.

Chipotle said same-store sales were trending down 16 percent at the onset of December but fell 34 percent after the Brighton incident and the subsequent national media attention it garnered.

Overall same-restaurant sales for December were down 30 percent, the company said.

Any more incremental bad news, particularly if there is an unfavorable decision from the grand jury, could trigger consideration among shareholders of a management change, Maxim Group analyst Stephen Anderson said.

The company, which also announced a $300 million share buyback, said it will fully cooperate with the probe.

The company’s shares have fallen nearly 30 percent since Oct. 31, when the first E. coli outbreak was reported.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Don Sebastian and Meredith Mazzilli)

Boston College Students Fall Ill, Investigators Probe Link to Chipotle E. Coli Outbreak

Investigators were reportedly trying to determine if the illnesses that several Boston College students reported after eating at a Chipotle were tied to an E. Coli outbreak at the restaurant.

The Boston Herald, quoting a statement from a school spokesman, reported Monday that “several” Boston College students complained of gastrointestinal symptoms after eating at a Chipotle restaurant. The newspaper reported the state’s Department of Public Health was notified and was examining whether the illnesses were linked to Chipotle’s recent E. Coli scare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 52 people in nine states have come down with one particular type of E. Coli since October. The CDC said that 47 of those people said they ate at a Chipotle restaurant in the week leading up to the onset of their illness.

In a statement to Reuters, a Chipotle spokesman said there wasn’t any evidence that the Boston College illnesses were related to the E. Coli outbreak. The spokesman said in the statement that there have not been any confirmed cases of the illness linked to Chipotle in Massachusetts.

Still, Boston television station WCVB reported that the Chipotle restaurant where the Boston College students ate was closed pending an investigation from Boston Inspectional Services. The television station placed the number of students who fell ill after eating at Chipotle at 30.

According to the CDC, there have been documented cases of the Chipotle-linked E. Coli strain in Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. The CDC said 20 people were hospitalized, but there were no reports of any deaths.

There were 40 cases in Washington (27) and Oregon (13), the CDC reported, and Chipotle voluntarily closed all of its 43 restaurants in the Seattle and Portland, Oregon, markets after the outbreaks were first reported. The company said all of those restaurants have since reopened.

It’s still not known what particular food item is responsible for the outbreak. Chipotle said in a news release on Friday that it has increased food safety practices since the outbreak first began.

The company’s stocks were trading at $750.42 in mid-October, which was near an all-time high. They have fallen more than $200 in the weeks since and were trading at $544.51 early Tuesday.

E. Coli symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The disease can sometimes lead to kidney failure, but there haven’t been any reported cases in the outbreak.

The E. Coli outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants deals with a different type of the bacteria than the one that has been connected to a rotisserie chicken salad sold in Costco stores.