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Reuters reports that more than 40 people have gotten ill from E. coli poisoning after eating at Chipotle restaurants in six different states, as an outbreak that began in the Pacific Northwest - and that the company believed had been contained and addressed - continues to spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying that "45 people got sick from the E. coli O26 outbreak strain, and of those, 43 reported eating at Chipotle. Sixteen people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported," according to Reuters.

The story goes on: "Chipotle's tagline is 'Food with Integrity,' and it has a reputation for serving healthy, fresh food. This outbreak, the company's third food safety lapse this year, has been a black mark for the popular chain that saw its shares tumble 12.3 percent to $536.19 on Friday.

"The outbreak also speaks to changing consumer tastes. U.S. diners are demanding more fresh, less processed foods. While such products are generally healthier, cooking and other types of processing can kill pathogens that make people sick.

"The source of the food contamination has not yet been found, but some investigators and experts suspect produce or another perishable item. High heat kills E. coli, and it is unlikely that all of the affected restaurants undercooked meat."

Reuters reports that while Chipotle closed all of its Pacific Northwest restaurants when they were implicated in the outbreak, deep-cleaning them before reopening the units, it has not closed the new restaurants that have been identified as a problem, though it has "hired food safety consultants, is testing food and changing food preparation procedures."

There is no apparent geographic connection to the new incidents - the restaurants are in places like Turlock, California; Akron, Ohio; Amherst, New York; and Burnsville, Minnesota.
KC's View:
Let's be clear. These kinds of problems are going to happen more frequently as companies shift to fresher ingredients and away from more processed foods ... it is Chipotle right now, but it could affect a lot of companies long-term. That's not to make excuses for Chipotle, which has to know that it is in very dangerous territory right now.

My kids love Chipotle, but I've urged them not to use the chain for the time being. There are just too many unknowns, and too many risks.

I suspect I'm not the only person who feels this way. Chipotle has a food safety issue to deal with, but also has a significant public relations problem with which it must grapple.