The Handling of the Chipotle Outbreaks Represents a Lack of Equitable Response

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By Kaley Beins

By now people are joking about Chipotle’s E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus problem.  An article title in yesterday’s Washington Post claimed that fans of the franchise are “totally willing to throw up a little.” A food safety website known as barfblog dedicated an entire page to the issue complete with Zoolander references and some lighthearted photos. The risk Chipotle poses to public health has even become the subject of Internet memes.



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The "Bad Luck Brian" meme takes on Chipotle


Reportedly, people started linking their sicknesses to Chipotle with an E. coli outbreak in Seattle in July 2015. In August and September cases of norovirus in Simi Valley, California and salmonella in Minnesota caught the nation’s attention. Finally, from October 19 through December, Chipotle was linked to almost 200 more cases of E. coli in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Boston.

Despite the jokes, the government has taken this widespread food contamination very seriously. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted an in-depth analysis of the E. coli outbreak as has the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA subpoenaed Chipotle over the norovirus outbreak in one of their many California restaurants. Chipotle even posts updates on its website regarding the health risks and how they have handled them.

Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak has affected about 500 people total nationwide. Meanwhile, over 11,000 people live near the burning radioactive landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri,  400 properties in Birmingham, Alabama have toxic soil that prevents kids from playing outside, and the 99,000 people in Flint, Michigan just started receiving water recently, months after they realized their water had been polluted by lead. While a situation that affected significantly fewer people was dealt with swiftly and effectively, families across the country are waiting years, even decades for solutions to risks in their neighborhoods. Every health threat deserves a swift, equitable response to keep people safe; it’s our responsibility to hold corporations and the government accountable for more than just our fast food.

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