Chipotle subpoenaed in federal inquiry into norovirus outbreak, Mexican shit in the food again.

From: Tyler ([email protected])

Chipotle Mexican Grill said Wednesday that it had been served a
federal grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation
seeking information about a norovirus outbreak at a California
restaurant.

The move could represent a highly unusual step by federal
authorities, which generally have tended to focus on
manufacturers or farmers, rather than restaurants, in
investigations of food-borne illnesses, food safety experts said.

But it was unknown whether Chipotle was a target of the inquiry
or whether it centered on some part of the food supply chain.
Federal officials declined to comment.

The inquiry was yet another setback for Chipotle, which has been
struggling to contain the damage to its sales and reputation
from a series of food-related illnesses among customers and
employees, including outbreaks of E. coli in other states in
which it closed some restaurants, and, last month, a norovirus
outbreak in Boston.

Chipotle said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange
Commission that news of additional food-related illnesses and
outbreaks in the last several weeks of 2015 had caused a drop in
sales in December alone of about 30 percent in stores that had
been open more than a year. Its stock has tumbled since news of
the outbreaks began.

The company declined to comment beyond the filing.

Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer representing plaintiffs in
cases involving the California norovirus outbreak and others
involving food contamination, said the federal inquiry was
unusual.

“It’s perplexing, because I’ve never seen this before,” he said
of the investigation, which so far seemed focused on only one
Chipotle restaurant.

Two hundred and seven people, including 18 Chipotle employees,
reported falling ill after eating at one of its restaurants in
Simi Valley, Calif., in mid-August, according to Doug Beach,
manager of the community services program at the Ventura County
Environmental Health Division. He said that workers had closed
and cleaned the restaurant, but did not notify his agency until
after it reopened.

“I do not know why Chipotle chose not to tell us until
everything was done,” he said, adding that restaurants typically
contact the department as soon as they are aware of food-borne
illness cases.

The subpoena was issued by the U.S. attorney’s office for the
Central District of California in an inquiry it is conducting
with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal
Investigations, Chipotle said in the filing. The subpoena seeks
“a broad range of documents,” the filing said, although Chipotle
did not say whether it was the target of the investigation.

“Whenever there’s an investigation of a target, many, many
people who do business with that target get a subpoena,” said
James F. Neale, a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods and co-
author of “Food Safety Law.” “We’re just looking through a very
limited keyhole.”

Representatives of the FDA and the U.S. attorney’s office
declined to comment.

Experts said it was unclear what might have prompted the
inquiry. In the past, such investigations have been opened when
contaminated food crosses state lines, Neale and Marler said,
and typically center on food producers.

“It doesn’t look to me like this California outbreak goes beyond
one restaurant,” Neale said. “We haven’t typically seen federal
law enforcement activity for localized outbreaks.”

Norovirus was also at the center of an episode in which about
120 Boston College students reported getting sick in December
after eating at a Chipotle restaurant near the campus.

The company had already been in the spotlight after various
restaurants around the country reported outbreaks of E. coli
bacteria. In early November, Chipotle voluntarily closed 43
restaurants in Washington state and Oregon because of an
outbreak. The bacteria are common in the intestines of animals
and people, but some strains can cause illness or even death.

Chipotle’s reputation – and sales – fell further the week of
Dec. 21, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
said it was investigating five new cases of E. coli reported in
November.

All told, more than 500 people were sickened after eating in a
Chipotle restaurant in the last half of 2015, according to Food
Safety News.

Shares of Chipotle fell nearly 5 percent Wednesday, to close at
$426.67. The stock had been trading above $700 a share in the
summer.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-;
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