The number of people affected by an E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle continues to rise. The Associated Press reports 37 people have fallen ill in Oregon and Washington, up from the previous report of 22. Most of those sickened have recently eaten at Chipotle restaurants in the two states.
The fast-casual burrito chain is at the center of a foodborne illness disaster for the third time in recent months, following Salmonella and Norovirus outbreaks. However, Preety Gadhoke, assistant professor at St. John's University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, says Americans should be looking at a bigger picture.
"While the public is focused on Chipotle's E.coli outbreak, the nation's food supply is the larger problem," Gadhoke, a public health expert, explained in an email to Eater. "Restaurants, supermarkets, and other food suppliers receive produce that may be exposed to contaminated water at the source where they are grown, picked, and packed. These outbreaks are often the result of irrigation systems that may be contaminated by animal fecal matter upstream.
"This is of primary concern for public health and safety, and the focus of government regulation of agricultural practices. E. coli outbreaks are rare and especially dangerous for children under 5, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. It takes between two and eight days for someone who has been exposed to experience symptoms that typically include diarrhea and abdominal cramping."
Earlier Tuesday, a Washington woman filed the first lawsuit related to the outbreak against Chipotle. The chain has voluntarily shuttered 43 locations and says it is "working with health department officials to determine the cause of this issue."