Filed Under:Risk Management, Corporate Risk

CDC ends Chipotle E. coli probe, fails to find pathogen source

In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, a microbiologist points out an isolated E. coli growth on an agar plate from a patient specimen at the Washington State Dept. of Health in Shoreline, Wash.
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, a microbiologist points out an isolated E. coli growth on an agar plate from a patient specimen at the Washington State Dept. of Health in Shoreline, Wash.

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded its investigation into two E. coli outbreaks that sickened dozens of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. customers and thrust the chain into a crisis that wiped out more than $10 billion in market value.

The CDC was unable to determine the source of contamination but said it was probably a common meal item or ingredient. Chipotle shares rose on the news, as investors bet that the worst was over for the company after almost three months of negative headlines.

Chipotle’s reputation, built on the promise of fast food made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, has been battered in recent months. The two E. coli outbreaks, which sickened at least 60 customers in 14 states, raised questions about the chain’s protocols for handling ingredients. Chipotle has apologized for making customers sick and announced changes to it says will make it an industry leader in food safety.

Related: Chipotle's Seattle woes put fresh scrutiny on safety procedures

Chipotle, which is scheduled to report earnings on Tuesday, said last month that sales plunged almost 15% in the fourth quarter, the first decline for the chain as a public company. The company also disclosed that it had been served with a grand jury subpoena in a federal grand jury investigation in California.

The criminal probe stems from a norovirus outbreak last summer at a restaurant in California, where more than 200 workers and customers were sickened. A Chipotle restaurant in Boston was shuttered for weeks in December after a norovirus outbreak there sickened more than 140 students from nearby Boston College.

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