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Update: Chipotle locations linked to E. coli outbreak named

Oregon, Washington restaurants remained closed following outbreak.


TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - The Chipotle Mexican Grill on Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard in Beaverton was among the Oregon and Washington locations temporarily closed over the weekend after diners were sickened by a toxic strain of the E. coli bacteria.All five Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in Washington County were among dozens temporarily closed in the Pacific Northwest after they were linked to a Shiga toxic E. coli outbreak that sickened numerous customers.

State health officials have now identified five Chipotle restaurants as sources of the outbreak, including locations near Washington Square in Beaverton and Streets of Tanasbourne in Hillsboro. The other Portland-area locations are in Lake Oswego, Clackamas Town Center and Northeast Portland's Cascade Station, according to officials at the Oregon Health Authority.

The popular restaurant chain has voluntarily closed its two locations in Beaverton and one each in Tualatin, Sherwood and the Tanasbourne neighborhood of Hillsboro while the source of the outbreak remains a mystery.

"We're working fast and furious on this," said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, the state health officer with OHA’s Public Health Division.

By Tuesday, state health officials had identified 12 residents of six Oregon counties who had either been confirmed to have been stricken with the bacteria or are highly suspected to have been infected. Three Oregonians were hospitalized and no deaths have been associated with this outbreak.

By comparison, the state typically sees two or three infections in a given month not tied to a significant outbreak, Hedberg said.

In all, 43 of its restaurants were closed, including 14 across the Portland area and all of its Washington restaurants. The closures started Oct. 30 and the restaurants remained shuttered at mid-week.

Early this week, a sign taped to the inside of the window at the restaurant on Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard in Beaverton and other locations read:

"FYI: We are sorry, but we are temporarily closed due to a supply chain issue. We will reopen as soon as possible."

Phone calls to the Cedar Hills, Hall Boulevard, Tualatin and Tanasbourne were not answered early this week. An employee at the Sherwood outlet confirmed Monday the restaurant was closed and wasn't sure when it would reopen.

As officials at the state and federal levels continue to investigate, they now have identified people sickened by the bacteria as far back as Oct. 7.

"Chipotle has been working very closely with us because they want to get to the bottom of this as well," Hedberg said during a Tuesday news conference.

The Oregon Health Authority, Washington State Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are continuing to work with Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas and Clark counties to investigate the outbreak.

So far, investigators have not yet pinpointed the exact source of the bacteria, but they believe the likeliest source of contamination is a fresh vegetable ingredient such as lettuce, tomato or cilantro from an outside source. The reasoning behind that belief is that the infection has been traced to customers who ate at multiple locations, a number of whom did not consume meat or tofu ingredients, Hedberg said.

State health officials reported the first three Oregon cases on Oct. 31.

Since then, investigators have identified the specific strain of E. coli involved. It is not among the most dangerous forms more often associated with serious complications including kidney failure, but this strain typically involves symptoms including vomiting and bloody diarrhea and can be particularly hard on the elderly and young children, Hedberg said.

People affected with E. coli may not seek health care, making it likely the actual number of people made ill by this outbreak is likely more than identified.

Health officials asked people who may have eaten at Chipotle during October and then become ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea to see their health care provider and mention this outbreak.

The Denver-based company has 1,755 Chipotle restaurants across the United States as well as a handful of locations in Canada, England, France and Germany.