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Officials suspect they have the cause of the latest Chipotle outbreak

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Health authorities in Boston have confirmed that more than 120 patrons of a Chipotle Mexican Grill near the campus of Boston College were sickened by norovirus, not E.coli bacteria.

They also revealed that an employee of the restaurant had worked on Thursday despite being sick, but said they could not say definitively if the kitchen worker was the source of the infection. The officials also acknowledged that they did not know if management of the restaurant had been aware of the staffer’s ill health.

Boston’s Inspection Services Department said it has determined that the employee worked near a station on Chipotle’s production line where chicken and steak were held at a temperature of no more than 128 degrees. Safety standards require a temperature of at least 140 degrees.

The Department said it cited the unit for three health code violations after the outbreak and yanked the restaurant’s permit to operate until the investigation is completed and the place is disinfected.

The detection of norovirus by the Boston Public Health Commission validates the burrito chain’s claim that the incident was not a continuation of the E.coli outbreak that sickened 52 people in nine states. Most of these victims had eaten in a Chipotle between mid-October and mid-November, prompting federal health officials to identify the chain as a likely source of the potentially lethal bacteria. In response, 43 Chipotles were temporarily closed.

The norovirus outbreak apparently came to light when eight members of BC’s basketball team told their coach about getting sick after eating at the Chipotle unit. More students were also afflicted, prompting the college to send emails advising students and faculty not to eat at the restaurant.

Today, the college raised its estimate of how many students had been sickened to 120, from an earlier count of 30 victims.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Department of Health pegged the number of victims at 65, and said that tally included non-students. The numbers suggest that more than 120 people have been afflicted.

The developments came to light as Chipotle executives were appearing before an investment conference in New York City. They commented that menu prices may have to be raised to pay for the more stringent safety procedures that were recently put in place.

At least one law firm is already trawling for Chipotle stockholders who might like to mount a legal action against the chain and its executives for not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.

Three victims of the E.coli outbreak have already filed liability lawsuits against Chipotle.

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