LA County investigating reports of illnesses at local Chipotle

Health officials were investigating a Chipotle restaurant in mid-city Los Angeles Wednesday after it reported that some of its employees were sick with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it received a report from Chipotle corporate offices about its location at 4550 W. Pico Blvd. and that the company is cooperating with the investigation.

The agency said it is working to determine the cause of the illnesses and that it has not received reports from other Chipotle locations at this time.

A manager at the location, Obed Jimenez, said the restaurant remained open but declined to comment further.

A Chipotle spokesman said some people had posted online that they became sick after eating at the location.

"We take any report of illness very seriously. We are aware of a few reports on user-generated reporting sites but there is no clinical validation associated with those reports," Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, said in a statement emailed to City News Service.

"As a precautionary measure, we have implemented heightened preventative procedures at this restaurant, which we do as a matter of policy if we ever receive reports of illness (even if they are not substantiated). We are working with local health officials to help them complete their investigation," Arnold said.

He added, "We are also aware of some employees who had been ill, and those employees are being held out of work, as is our policy if employees are sick. We reported those illnesses to local health officials (also a policy) who inspected that restaurant yesterday and were pleased with our operations, and the restaurant remains open for business."

The Department of Public Health issued a statement saying it "routinely monitors and investigates reports of foodborne illness and communicable diseases in response to health concerns. People with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea should stay well hydrated and should see their primary care provider if the vomiting persists for more than 48 hours. Those who are infants, elderly or immunocompromised are at higher risk of complications and should contact their provider if they develop symptoms."

Chipotle saw its sales and stock price plunge after an E. coli outbreak in 2015. A store in Virginia also had to temporarily close in July after diners became ill from what the company said may have been caused by an employee who was working while sick with a norovirus.

Phil Shuman reports from the Mid-City Chipotle:

Not a great day for the Chipotle restaurant chain. After online reports of people getting sick at a Mid-City Los Angeles restaurant, the County Health Department got involved and has launched a formal investigation.

When news of that got out and was reported almost anywhere you could look, the stock started going down and closed almost 5 percent down. When I went to the restaurant in question it was open for business as usual, in fact, it was crowded, and no one I spoke with new about the new reports.

The big blue LA County letter rating from the health department was in the window, and it was an "A" (based on the last inspection which was in January.) The Health Department will be visiting again, taking samples, and trying to interview those who claim they got sick after eating there.

Three years ago about 53 people were sicked at restaurants in 9 different states, linked to E Coli bacteria which is usually traced to food workers who don't wash their hands well enough.

Nothing definitive this time, as pointed out by the Chipotle spokesperson, but given the past, it's not unreasonable to suggest to the complaints have some validity.

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