After extensive testing, Washington state health officials announced they have found no E. coli bacteria in food samples from Chipotle. It's the first bit of good news the chain has received since the start of the outbreak, which has already sickened over 40 people and forced the company to close 43 of its locations in Washington and Oregon.
A Chipotle spokesperson told Eater the company "should start to reopen restaurants Wednesday," November 11, after meeting some further conditions. According to CTV News, the company "must get rid of and replace all produce, do a deep cleaning of their stores, pass a local health inspection and start a new protocol for cleaning produce." The burrito chain also announced last week it had hired health safety consultants to help it "assess and improve upon its already high standards for food safety."
This is good news for Chipotle, but it leaves customers in the lurch as they continue to face uncertainty about the source of infection. Reuters reports via health officials that "Food outbreak investigations do not always identify a specific food source as the culprit, because contaminated food is at times consumed before the samples are collected."
The test results also won't get Chipotle off the hook for three lawsuits it's facing from customers who say they contracted E. coli after eating the company's food. Chipotle has already been implicated this year in two separate cases of foodborne illness, including Salmonella and Norovirus. And Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney representing two of the three plaintiffs, told CTV News that "just because health department officials haven't found the cause of the outbreak doesn't mean they aren't still blaming Chipotle for making people sick."