Nearly 650 people got sick after eating at Chipotle. Here's what we know about the culprit, and how to avoid it.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • Nearly 650 people got sick after eating at a Chipotle in Powell, Ohio. Now we know why.
  • The Delaware General Health District said stool samples of sick people tested positive for the bacteria Clostridium perfringens.
  • C. perfringens is pretty easily avoided, if food is kept at appropriate storage temperatures.

The mystery’s largely been solved at a Chipotle restaurant in Powell, Ohio.

Nearly 650 people got violently ill with severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea after eating there, as Business Insider reported earlier.

The outbreak started around July 26, and continued for several days, but health officials were initially not sure what happened. After testing some stool samples of the sickened customers, they have found a culprit: a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens was at work.

Like E. coli, C. perfringens hangs out naturally in the guts of animals and people, and is often in raw meat.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says it is one of the most common types of food poisoning. It sickens nearly a million people in the country every year with diarrhoea and cramps that usually last for less than a day.

Problems can arise with C. perfringens when food is kept warm for a while before it’s served.

The trouble is easily avoided if workers are trained to keep food at safe storage and serving temperatures. For example, roasts of beef and poultry should be stored above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or below 40 degrees, the CDC says. Meat should be served up hot, not lukewarm.

In response to the outbreak, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said the company’s going to work on that.

“Chipotle Field Leadership will be retraining all restaurant employees nationwide beginning next week on food safety and wellness protocols,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said in response to the outbreak news.

See also:

Health officials reveal why nearly 650 people got sick after eating at Chipotle

This isn’t the first time Chipotle’s come under fire for questionable food handling practices. The company was plagued by a string of food poisoning outbreaks in 2015, and has continued to have issues since. More recently, the company closed down a Virginia store in 2017 after several people got sick there. At the time, food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler told Business Insider that Chipotle may not actually be any worse at food safety than other restaurants; it’s just the one company that gets caught.

“The vast majority of foodborne illnesses are never linked to anything,” Marler said. “Most people think the thing that made them sick was the last thing they ate – which is mostly wrong.”

The best way to treat C. perfringens is with lots of fluids and rest. The more surefire way to prevent this nuisance illness is by making sure your food’s been properly cooked, stored, and handled before you put it in your mouth.

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