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Chipotle E. Coli Victim Toll Rises to 37 As Burrito Chain Struggles to Repair Image

Chipotle E. Coli Victim Toll Rises to 37 As Burrito Chain Struggles to Repair Image

The CDC has now confirmed 37 cases of E. coli illness on the West Coast, and the first lawsuit against Chipotle has been filed

Will Chipotle be able to bounce back from this PR disaster?

Chipotle’s problems are only beginning. Although the fast casual chain enjoyed years of positive brand publicity, from their policy of transparency to their commitment to animal welfare and organic, locally sourced food, the burrito chain is currently experiencing a meltdown. After a massive E. coli outbreak that resulted in the closure of 43 restaurants, and a victim toll that keeps rising (currently standing at 37 cases of illness and hospitalization), Chipotle is scrambling to repair its damaged image.

The burrito chain already finds itself in legal trouble, as one of the victims, a Washington woman who was hospitalized with symptoms consistent with E. coli illness, is suing Chipotle for $75,000. This will likely not be the last lawsuit Chipotle battles in the coming months.

"We are encouraging anyone who has eaten at a Chipotle restaurant and has developed severe diarrhea or bloody diarrhea (to) seek health care," Katherine Hedberg, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority told USA Today. "At this point, we still think our case count may increase."

Meanwhile, Chipotle has announced an initiative to not only work with local authorities to find the exact source of the outbreak, but to conduct food and environmental testing in its restaurants across the nation. They will also batch test ingredients before opening the remaining closed restaurants and hire two consulting firms in the Seattle area to assess further improvements that could be made.

To add painful fuel to the fire, the anti-Chipotle nonprofit group, Chubby Chipotle, took out a full-page ad in the New York Post on Wednesday, saying: “You Can’t Spell Chipotle Without E. coli,” with the tagline, “what really matters is if your high-calorie burrito will make you feel sick to your stomach."

"The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority," said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, in a statement.