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'We should expect to see another outbreak': Reports of illnesses from Chipotle are soaring

Business Insider logo Business Insider 11/19/2017 Hayley Peterson
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Video by Wochit News

Chipotle's food safety problems are persisting more than two years after the E. coli outbreak that sent the company's sales sliding, according to a website that tracks foodborne illnesses.

The rate of self-reported foodborne illnesses are at least nine times higher for Chipotle than all other restaurant chains, says Patrick Quade, the founder of IWasPoisoned.com.

"The rate of food poisoning reports attributed to Chipotle continues to be multiples higher than peers," Quade told Business Insider, referring to data pulled from his website, which allows people to self-report illnesses. "At this rate of reporting, our data indicates we should expect to see another outbreak attributed to Chipotle sometime in the next six to 12 months."

Chipotle says the source of the data is innacurate. 

"Self-reported data of this kind includes no clinical validation and is largely speculative and inaccurate," Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said to Business Insider. "Using such unscientific data that is often reported anonymously to try to predict future outbreaks seems like little more than irresponsible speculation."

Chipotle© Provided by Business Insider Chipotle IWasPoisoned.com allows people to self-report suspected foodborne illnesses. The crowd-sourced nature of the data leaves room for a large margin of error, but the website has a track record of accurately spotting illness outbreaks even before health officials or restaurant managers are aware.

For example, Quade was the first to spot the norovirus outbreak at the Chipotle in Sterling, Virginia, following a cluster of reports made to IWasPoisoned.com. Chipotle closed its restaurant for several days following the outbreak.

It's highly possible that people are more likely to report getting sick after eating at Chipotle because of the restaurant chain's past issues with food safety. Many people also tend to blame whatever they ate last for an illness, when in reality, symptoms of sicknesses like norovirus don't show up for 24-48 hours after ingestion of infected food.

But even accounting for such anomalies, Chipotle's illness reports still far outweigh its peers, Quade says. 

Chipotle© Provided by Business Insider Chipotle

Another outbreak would be brutal for Chipotle.

Just last week, Chipotle's stock slid more than 5% after an actor claimed he "almost died" after eating at the chain. Similarly, shares fell more than 14% in July after a norovirus outbreak at a single restaurant in Sterling, Virginia.

Chipotle has been fighting to restore its public image since the 2015 E. coli outbreak that affected restaurants in 14 states and sent sales sliding by more than 30%. The company has lured customers back to its restaurants with millions of dollars in free food offers, and it has also made sweeping changes to its food preparation procedures to ramp up food safety and prevent another outbreak. 

But the volatility of the company's stock in relation to even isolated reports of suspected illnesses shows Chipotle still has work to do to restore the trust of both customers and investors. 

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