As the number of E. coli O26 victims creeped to 40, Chris Collins says he has always been selective about where he goes out for a meal. He said he respected Chipotle for its food integrity and animal-welfare policies.
But a week after being treated at a hospital for severe intestinal distress, the Lake Oswego, Ore., resident no longer considers the casual Mexican restaurant a safe choice.
Collins was one of at least 39 (now 40) people in Oregon and Washington state to be sickened with E. coli in an outbreak linked to the popular chain.
“The reality is there was waste in my food. Something I can never be able to tell unless I got sick,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t seem to make sense to take that risk again.”
Collins decided to speak out about his experience after reading comments in the press and social media and concluding that people didn’t understand the severity of E. coli.
He also wanted people to understand how many things could go wrong in a restaurant and result in customers getting sick.
“I feel like I dodged a bullet. I’m lucky that I’m in as good health as I am,” said Collins, who works out five to six times a week and loves to hike.
Collins went to urgent care first. They took one look at him and sent him to an emergency room. That’s when it started to get really scary. He didn’t connect his illness to Chipotle until the emergency-room doctor called him the next day.
Now, he’s not willing to eat out at all and he and his wife are seriously considering becoming vegetarians.
Except E. coli, especially the Shiga-toxin producing kind, are everywhere. And investigators are focusing on produce.
“It’s not just a meat issue. I’ve seen E. coli infections in very strict vegetarians,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of gastroenterology at Touro College of Medicine.
Since E. coli is an intestinal bacteria found in humans and animals, it gets spread by poop. If contaminated waste gets into manure or the irrigation water used for crops, the bacteria spreads to the produce. Infected animals can even contaminate a crop by leaving droppings in a field of normally healthy tomatoes and lettuce leaves.