Chipotle Mexican Grill has already battled E. coli O26 earlier this fall. They now face a new challenge: a Norovirus outbreak in Boston. According to a CNBC report, at least 120 Boston College students are ill with symptoms consistent with Norovirus, a highly contagious foodborne illness often referred to as the “stomach flu,” after eating at a Chipotle establishment. Included in those students were some members of the Boston College men’s basketball team.
As a result of the outbreak, city inspectors closed the Chipotle after an inspection revealed three critical violations, one of which included an ill employee working at the establishment. In addition, the Boston Public Health Commission ran some laboratory tests on ill patrons and were able to confirm 80 Norovirus cases, which included students and Boston residents. Because of the recent E. coli outbreak Chipotle was associated with, all ill Boston College students were also tested for the specific E. coli strain; however, none of the results have come back positive, which means this current outbreak is not likely associated with the earlier outbreak.
Currently, the food at Chipotle is being tested to determine the source of the Norovirus. Students are also being interviewed to help lead the investigation. The establishment will remain closed until it is safe to open again.
Because Norovirus is highly contagious, it is important to ensure you and your employees take proper precautions to protect other employees and your customers. The most common symptoms of Norovirus include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If any food worker is vomiting or has diarrhea, regardless of if they are diagnosed with Norovirus, they need to be excluded from the establishment. If they are serving the general population, they may return to work once they have been symptom free for at least 24 hours. If they are diagnosed with Norovirus, they can come back to work after that 24-hour period, but should only perform certain tasks. Their work should be restricted, which means they should not work with exposed food, clean equipment, or clean utensils, for another 24 hours. They may perform duties such as taking out the garbage and clearing dirty tables.
The best way to prevent Norovirus is by frequently and thoroughly washing your hands. Norovirus spreads through the fecal-oral route, so incomplete or infrequent handwashing could spread the virus quickly.
For more information about preventing foodborne illness in your establishment, visit StateFoodSafety.com.