Chipotle Probed for New Outbreak of Different E. Coli Strain

Chain's Reputation Has Already Taken a Huge Hit

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Chipotle Mexican Grill, still reeling from recent outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus at its restaurants, is now being investigated for its link to a new spate of illnesses in three additional states.

Five people in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma have been reported as falling ill from an E. coli strain with a rare DNA signature, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday in a statement. All five, who became sick on dates ranging from Nov. 18 to Nov. 26, reported eating at a Chipotle in the week before their illnesses started.

The new report may further damage Chipotle's reputation -- built on the promise of fast food made with better ingredients -- which already has been battered in recent weeks by an outbreak of E. coli that afflicted at least 53 people in nine states. That was followed by a norovirus contagion at a Boston location that sickened more than 140 college students. The company now expects sales to fall as much as 11% in the fourth quarter as the illnesses bring attention to the company's food-safety struggles.

"Since this issue began, we have completed a comprehensive reassessment of our food safety programs with an eye to finding best practices for each of the ingredients we use," Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said today in an e-mailed statement. "We are now in the process of implementing those programs."

Chipotle said the three most recently reported illnesses all stemmed from two restaurants: one in Oklahoma and one in Kansas.

The shares fell as much as 6.1% to $508.10 in New York after the CDC released its statement. Denver-based Chipotle already had tumbled 21% this year through last week in the wake of the earlier outbreaks.

--Bloomberg News

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