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Chipotle Mexican Grill Offers to Foot the Bill for Ohio Food Poisoning Victims

Apr 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Early last week, over 400 people reported being stricken with food poisoning after eating at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Kent, Colorado.  The Chipotle restaurant chain's Denver corporate office has agreed to pay treatment costs for those who fell ill after eating at Chipotle recently.  The last official tally released by local health officials April 21 reported 428 total cases.  Chipotle officials say the suspected norovirus incident was contained to the Kent restaurant.

Food tests from Chipotle did not confirm the virus’ origin; however, investigators confirmed that norovirus is to blame.  In a recent statement, Monty Moran, Chipotle president and COO, said Chipotle established a claims program and reimbursement process for medical expenses related to the norovirus outbreak.  "Investigators have informed us that they believe that the illness was caused by a norovirus, not by anything in our food, equipment, or our food supply," Moran said.  "We plan to assist people who believe their illness was caused by a visit to our restaurant with reimbursement of related health care expenses.  Food safety is, and always has been, our highest priority."

The store closed voluntarily for about 24 hours to conduct a complete sanitation of the building's surfaces and during to recent inspections, no violation of food service regulations was found.  Health officials conducted a symptom survey of the entire store's staff and no employee present during the outbreak will be allowed to return to work until they have obtained medical clearance.

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and infection can occur by ingesting contaminated food or liquids; touching contaminated surfaces or objects; and having direct contact with an infected person.  Noroviruses are very contagious and people are contagious the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery, sometimes up to two weeks after recovery.  Because there are many different norovirus strains, it is difficult for a person’s body to develop long-lasting immunity; norovirus illness can recur throughout a lifetime.

Noroviruses are related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping and may cause chills, headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches, and general malaise.  The very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable.  Symptoms usually occur within 12 to 48 hours from exposure.  People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within a couple of days and suffer no long-term health effects; however, some are unable to drink enough liquids to replace what they lost and can become dehydrated and require medical attention.  Norovirus, like all viruses, cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Customers who ate at the restaurant between April 15 and 18 and who sought medical attention for symptoms consistent with norovirus can call Chipotle claims at 1-888-366-2150. The company will screen receipts and credit card charges from the period in which people first began reporting sick until the restaurant closed to eliminate people with illegitimate claims against the chain.  Moran said the company continues to work with city, county and state health officials to determine the exact cause of the illness.

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