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Chipotle's Food Safety Nightmare Continues With a Criminal Investigation

Meanwhile, sales — and the company's stock — have plunged.

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

The fallout from Chipotle's recent foodborne illness disaster just keeps getting worse. This morning it was revealed that the burrito chain has been served with a federal grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation related to an August 2015 norovirus outbreak at a store in Simi Valley, Calif., per the Associated Press.

The subpoena requires the company to produce a number of internal documents; the investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California along with the FDA's criminal investigations arm. The Simi Valley norovirus outbreak, which sickened nearly 100 customers, was traced back to a Chipotle employee who continued to work through their illness. The AP spoke to a food safety lawyer who said a criminal investigation following a norovirus outbreak is "unusual."

Meanwhile, Chipotle's sales have plunged: Same-store sales were down nearly 15 percent in the fourth quarter, even more than the 11 percent the company had projected. (In December, sales at established locations fell by a whopping 30 percent.) Following this morning's subpoena news, Chipotle's stock reached its "lowest point in more than two years," notes Bloomberg.

Reached via email, Chipotle responded with the following statement: "As a matter of policy, we do not discuss details surrounding pending legal actions, but we will fully cooperate with the investigation."

Chipotle's public health crisis first exploded last fall, and has continued to simmer in months since: After the initial E. coli outbreak hit Oregon and Washington State, it was revealed to have spread to nine states across the country. To make matters worse, an additional norovirus outbreak in Boston sickened more than 120 college students in December.  A handful of lawsuits have been filed against the one-time burrito king of fast-casual. Chipotle’s stock almost immediately took a hit, but then rebounded slightly after CEO Steve Ells issued several public apologies on air and in print. Unfortunately, as a source has still not been pinpointed, the chain has sunk to never-before-seen lows: Two weeks ago, Chipotle’s stock (CMG) closed below $500 per share for the first time in two years. It currently stands at just over $430. Public opinion, meanwhile, hovers somewhere near the toilet.

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