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August 23, 2022

Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle  (CMG)  knows all too well what bad publicity from problems at some of its locations can do to its business.

Chipotle was quick to react to an emergency health situation in 2018 to head off disaster and its actions seemed to have worked as it weathered the storm of bad publicity to emerge as a very popular fast-food burrito restaurant.

The Mexican restaurant chain was the center of two E. Coli outbreaks. One outbreak affected 11 states and infected 55 people, 21 of which were hospitalized. The outbreaks forced Chipotle to reexamine its food safety practices. 

The outbreak was enough to spook customers to dine elsewhere for quite some time. Chipotle went above and beyond to reassure its customers that food safety was a top priority. The restaurant chain went so far as to help local farmers and committed to spending up to $10 million dollars to increase food safety practices and to increase local ingredients availability across the U.S. 

Chipotle employees implemented new systems at all locations to help reduce risk of contamination and spreading disease. The changes made exceeded the regular requirements put in place by federal rules and regulations.

One such change was the high-resolution DNA based testing of ingredients done prior to being shipped to the restaurant chain’s locations. Chipotle also worked on improving food preparation around washing produce and other new rules surrounding steak and chicken prep were started. 

Customers began to feel safe or forget the outbreak issues and began to return to the chain after food safety standards and practices were made.

E. coli cases reported recently by Wendy’s  (WEN)  customers are eerily reminiscent of a Chipotle’s 2018 outbreak.

Wendy's lead kl

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Wendy’s E. Coli Outbreak Hits the Midwest

Wendy’s in the Midwest has pulled romaine lettuce from its sandwiches and burgers for the time being. The restaurant has been tied to a few dozen cases of E. coli in the region. The media statement released on Wendy’s website on Aug. 19, said the restaurant chain is fully cooperating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while it conducts its investigation of the E. coli outbreak.

Wendy’s has tossed out its romaine lettuce in these states that it planned to use for sandwiches and burgers as a precaution. Wendy’s said that the lettuce used for its salads is different and is unaffected by this outbreak. Where its available, Wendy’s has replaced the romaine lettuce. Wendy’s has not closed any locations and has not stopped serving its customers amid this outbreak, and all menu items are still available.

Wendy’s has not commented on making any other changes to its food preparation and safety procedures to curtail any future food contamination issues. The CDC is not currently advising to avoid any foods or restaurants at this time. The CDC is reporting this outbreak as coming from an unknown food source at this time. 

CDC Investigates the Outbreak 

The CDC issued an investigative report on Aug. 19 listing states affected, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and possibly Indiana. The report stated that up to five people have become sick in Indiana and Pennsylvania, up to 15 have become sick in Michigan and up to 20 have become sick in Ohio. 

People became ill between July 26 and Aug. 8 and the numbers are subject to change as it takes a few weeks to determine if an illness is related to an outbreak. July 31 and Aug. 1 were reported as peak dates with six people reporting illnesses. The CDC reported that 10 people were hospitalized, but zero deaths have been reported.

E. coli symptoms are present between one to 10 days after eating contaminated food. Symptoms may include all or only some of the following: signs of dehydration like dry mouth, dry throat, and feeling faint when getting up. Other symptoms may include cramping, vomiting to the extent liquids are not being held down, bloody or not bloody diarrhea lasting more than three days, and/or a fever more than 102 degrees. 

While most cases are mild and people will recover, the more vulnerable like children and the elderly are more susceptible to a more serious case. More serious cases of E. coli could lead to other illnesses and even death. Most people will recover from a case of E. coli within a week with rest and hydration.

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