Chipotle restaurants in Washington may reopen as soon as Wednesday after samples tested negative for E. coli linked to an outbreak that sickened dozens in Washington and Oregon, health officials said Monday.
Tests of thousands of produce samples turned up negative for the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O26 bacteria tagged as the culprit, and the popular restaurant chain has gone “above and beyond” state health requirements to ensure safety, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington’s epidemiologist for communicable disease.
“Do I think the food is safe? I can’t answer whether the food is safe, but I can tell you I agree with all of the steps they are taking,” Lindquist said. “We have found no food with E. coli and there doesn’t appear to be an ongoing risk at this point.”
Testing is a poor substitute for epidemiology.
Last week the chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, Steve Ells, said in a statement, “The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority.”
There is one case of the same strain and DNA fingerprint of E. coli in Minnesota, but that person had not eaten at a Chipotle within the week before symptoms began, therefore health officials believe this is an unrelated case. The CDC is unaware of any cases in other states.
State and local health officials continue to work with federal health officials to investigate this outbreak.