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Seattle Chipotle Closed For ‘Repeated Food Safety Violations’

The Chipotle Mexican Grill on South Lake Union was shut down Thursday by officials with Public Health — Seattle and King County for repeated food safety violations.

The “fast casual” restaurant at 212 Westlake Ave. in Seattle was closed for receiving red violations during three consecutive inspections, according to the official Public Health — Seattle & King County blog. Red violations are those presenting an immediate danger to public health, with the potential for causing foodborne illness.

slakeunion CMG_406x250Another forced closure of one of its restaurants in a highly visible area —Amazon makes Seattle’s Lake Union area its home — comes after Chipotle had to shutter its unit near Boston College for sickening 120 students, including the men’s basketball team, with norovirus.

And the Denver-based chain of more than 1,900 restaurants is still trying to manage the fallout from its association with a nine-state E. coli 026 outbreak that sickened 52 people.

The Seattle Chipotle was shut down after it failed to obtain the minimum required 90 points on a 400-point scale in any of three consecutive inspections required to remain open. It was getting only 25 to 33 points because of repeated violations, with failure to maintain food at proper temperatures being among the food safety requirements it was not meeting.

Seattle health officials will require Chipotle to correct all the violations, pay a fine, and pass re-inspection before the South Lake Union restaurant will be permitted to do business again.

Boston College coach Jim Christian blamed his team’s Wednesday night 66-to-51 loss to Providence on Chipotle. He said it was difficult for his team to practice because they had trouble holding anything down but fluids. Fox Sports broadcasters covering the game said the BC players looked fatigued during the “shoot around” before the game with Providence. The coach said food from the Chipotle unit near campus was served after a practice last week.

Before the forced closure in Seattle was announced, some investors were betting there is a recovery in the company’s future. Its stock (CMG: NYSE) rebounded to reach $576.02 per share when financial markets closed Thursday. That marked a gain of $28.01, or up 5.11 percent per share. Chipotle will have to get back to $750 per share to recover the ground it has lost since mid-October.

Chipotle has been associated with four major outbreaks in 2015, all packed into the last half of year. In addition to the current Boston College outbreak, Chipotle was blamed for a norovirus outbreak in Ventura County, CAm in August. It voluntarily closed the Chipotle restaurant for deep cleaning in the Simi Valley Town Center after 80 customers and 18 employees came down with laboratory-confirmed norovirus.

On the heels of that outbreak, Chipotle closed 17 restaurants in the Twin Cities metro area, including one each in St. Cloud and Rochester, after the units were associated with a Salmonella Newport outbreak that sickened 64 and sent nine people to Minnesota hospitals. An ingredient Chipotle was using, tomatoes, were named as the source of the outbreak by Minnesota officials. Illness onset dates extended to Sept. 3 in that outbreak.

The public learned about the current nine-state E. coli 026 outbreak in late October when Chipotle announced it was closing 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington state after health officials found that its customers were getting sick. The latest information about the outbreak came on Dec. 4 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added three more states and set the number of illnesses at 52.

Between those two markers, Chipotle saw about one-fifth of its stock value evaporate. The company had to admit that customers were staying away. The company cut its earnings forecast for the fourth quarter from more than $4 to a range under $3.

Then the BC outbreak was mistaken by Boston media outlets as E. coli 026, rather than the less dangerous norovirus.

By that time, some Chipotle executives were losing whatever cool they had left by blaming the media for “sensational headlines” to “fan the hysteria” and CDC for its reporting practices. Other Chipotle executives were making apologies and explaining that the company plans to get ahead of its food safety crisis, including the appointment of outsider expert.

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