One day after a Billerica, Mass., Chipotle shut down due to sick employees, the restaurant has received the all-clear to resume normal operations. Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold confirmed in an email to Eater the Billerica location will open for business on Thursday, and no customers have reported illnesses.
On Tuesday, Arnold told Eater the restaurant temporarily shuttered for "a full sanitation" after learning four employees were not feeling well. Following the company's assorted public health disasters in 2015, the quick action in Billerica was a result of Chipotle's new food safety precautions. Arnold would not speculate as to whether the new measures prevented an potential outbreak, but he said "the employees who were feeling ill did not come to work sick, and that is always the right decision."
The Billerica Board of Health announced in a press release there were three suspected cases of norovirus at the Chipotle. The Board of Health originally stated one of those cases was confirmed, but it has since backtracked. After beginning their investigation into the incident Tuesday morning, health officials returned Wednesday and were "satisfied that the food establishment was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized."
Health officials were satisfied that the food establishment was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
While the chain seems to have avoided being at the center of another foodborne illness outbreak, news of this latest norovirus scare won't help Chipotle's attempts to get back in the public's good graces. T.J. Winick, vice president for national public relations firm Solomon McCown & Company, says "the optics are bad any way you slice it."
"While we can praise Chipotle for demonstrating their new and improved safety measures, the fact is: This isn't happening at other restaurants — other restaurants that consumers have to choose from when deciding where to eat," Winick said in an email to Eater. "This is just another reason for them to go elsewhere."
Chipotle's stock endured a rocky session on Wall Street Wednesday. CMG opened more than 12 points down from Tuesday's close of 524.69, and it bottomed out around 11 a.m. at 494.12. The stock ended the day at 506.82. How investors react going forward likely depends on any new developments related to the incident in Billerica.
"If it's contained to the one employee, the hit might be temporary," Winick said. "But if there's any indication this is more wide-spread, watch out. You have to wonder just how long Chipotle's good will amongst its loyal customers — and investors — will last."
Anyone can contract norovirus from another infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Billerica location is less than 30 miles from a Boston Chipotle outpost that was hit hard by norovirus in December. That outbreak resulted in more than 140 customers, mostly Boston College students and staff, becoming ill.