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Chipotle reopens as customers continue to report illnesses

The Chipotle Mexican Grill location in Virginia that was closed Monday after customer complaints of foodborne illnesses reopened in time for the lunch rush Wednesday with CEO Steve Ells saying he is confident in the safety of the chain’s food.

Customers who ate at the Chipotle Mexican Grill location in Sterling, VA, have been posting reports of foodborne illnesses along with receipts from the restaurant and documents from their doctors on the website iwaspoisoned.com.

Loudoun County Health Director David Goodfriend did not include many specific details about the suspected norovirus outbreak in a news release Wednesday. He did not respond to questions from Food Safety News about what specific steps were taken to ensure the public’s safety.

“We are encouraged that those affected are starting to feel better and we are focused on preventing any new infections,” Goodfriend said in the news release.

Chipotle founder Ells had similar sentiments in a written statement he issued from corporate headquarters in Denver. He and the chain of more than 2,200 restaurants have been focused on preventing new foodborne infections among customers since a string of norovirus, E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks in the last half of 2015. Hundreds of people across the country were sickened.

“I made a commitment on behalf of Chipotle to make our restaurants the safest place to eat, and I am confident in the programs and procedures we have implemented,” Ells said in the written statement.

“The event that occurred at this restaurant is consistent with norovirus which can be introduced by people into any closed environment like schools, cruise ships, nursing homes or restaurants. … While the restaurant was closed, multiple teams performed complete sanitizations of all surfaces. We also provided support to any customers or employees who had reported illness to ensure their well-being.”

First reported by Business Insider on Tuesday, the outbreak was detected by the founder of the crowdsourcing website iwaspoisoned.com, Patrick Quade. The site started logging complaints of illnesses from patrons of the Sterling, VA, Chipotle location this past weekend. By end of business Monday, reports on the website indicated 13 people had become ill after eating at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday. Two of them had to be hospitalized.

As of Wednesday evening, the number of reports on iwaspoisoned.com was at 89 and counting, with more than 135 people sickened. Some of the reports described entire families with classic norovirus symptoms of stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

County officials have asked that anyone who ate at the restaurant and fell ill contact the health department at 703-771-5411. Questions for the health department can also be emailed to health@loudoun.gov. The New York Post reported Wednesday that the health director had said 40 customers had contacted the department.

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