Chipotle has reportedly concluded that the source of the E. coli outbreak linked to its restaurants was tainted Australian beef, the Wall Street Journal reports.
That runs contrary to statements made by the Centres for Disease Control, which on Monday announced the end to the outbreak and said the source was never identified.
Chipotle privately disagrees with that finding, however, according to the Journal’s report, which cited sources familiar with the months-long investigation into the source of the outbreak.
When asked to confirm whether the company believed Australian beef was the source of the outbreak, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said:
“We are not going to comment on theories or speculation. The investigation has concluded and no ingredient was identified as the cause.
I’d note that the same article highlights a few theories. In the Northwest, it notes that “local health authorities initially suspected locally sourced produce,” according to Washington state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist. And it states that “government officials leaned toward produce.”
In the end, investigators were not able to determine a cause.”
Chipotle began importing beef from Australia two years ago because it couldn’t find enough domestically-raised grass-fed beef to meet growing demand, according to Chipotle founder Steve Ells.
“We recently began sourcing some steak from ranches in Southern Australia, which is among the very best places in the world for raising beef cattle entirely on grass,” Chipotle founder Steve Ells explained in a 2014 op-ed. “The meat produced by these ranchers is ‘grass-fed’ in the truest sense of the term: The cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pastures or rangelands, eating only grass or forages (by definition, forages are hay and grass — corn is not forage).”
The E. coli outbreak sickened more than 50 people in 11 states.
The company is making a number of changes to its food preparation and handling to avoid another outbreak.
For example, Chipotle is now marinating chopped onions, jalapenos, and cilantro in citrus juice when it makes salsas and guacamole.
The company is also using a new procedure for marinating chicken and steak, “which now happens distinct from and after the preparation of other fresh items” in resealable plastic bags, rather than bowls.
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