How an E. Coli Outbreak Happens (3:08)
More than 20 people got a little something extra in their meals at Chipotle in October 2015: E. coli. The Mexican restaurant chain has closed 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington State after 22 people became sick with the bacteria at last count.
“After being notified by health department officials in the Seattle and Portland areas that they were investigating approximately 20 cases of E. coli, including people who ate at six of our restaurants in those areas, we immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems,” a Chipotle spokesperson said in a statement. “We are working with health department officials to determine the cause of this issue.”
E. coli is a bacterium that lives in your intestines. Certain strains, which can be picked up by eating food contaminated by feces, cause such gastrointestinal distress as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, and can be accompanied by fever and fatigue. The worst kind can cause bloody diarrhea and even, potentially, kidney failure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 265,000 cases of E. coli related to foodborne illness hit the U.S. each year. Particularly susceptible are young children and the elderly because they’re at greater risk of developing a serious type of kidney damage.
Even though E. coli is a bacterium, it’s not usually treated with antibiotics because they can increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Ask your doctor before taking anti-diarrhea medications since these could also increase the risk of HUS.
If you become infected, drink water and let it run its course. If you have bloody stool, get to the doctor.
When you eat out, you’re at the mercy of the restaurant, trusting it to prepare your food properly. One of the best ways to prevent E. coli is to cook at home, with proper food prep. Cook meat thoroughly; wash fruits and veggies; have separate cutting boards for vegetables and different types of meat and wash your knives after each use. Always be sure to wash your hands after using the restroom.