Employee at closed Massachusetts Chipotle has norovirus: official

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 09, 2016 10:46 AM

By Brian Snyder

BILLERICA, Mass. (Reuters) - The suburban Boston Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc restaurant that closed on Tuesday was hit by norovirus, with one employee confirmed ill and two more suspected with the virus, the top health official of the town of Billerica said.

The cleaned restaurant was scheduled to reopen on Thursday, Billerica, Massachusetts, Public Health Director Richard Berube told reporters, adding that the employees suspected of having the virus did not come to work on Wednesday.

"They called in sick so that was very fortunate," he said outside the closed restaurant.

Shares of Chipotle fell nearly 3 percent to $509.41.

Chipotle is trying to repair its reputation after a series of food-safety incidents, including two E.coli outbreaks that sickened more than 50 people in 10 states and two separate outbreaks of norovirus, a highly contagious virus known as the "winter vomiting bug", in Massachusetts and California that involved more than 350 diners.

Berube said Chipotle has been "very proactive." Remaining staff at the burrito restaurant would be screened for norovirus, he added.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the company closed the restaurant after four employees called in sick. Berube said three employees were sick or suspected of being sick.

Berube, the company and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said that no customers were known to be sick.

The latest report of a store closure comes as Chipotle has been trying to lure back diners with coupons for a free burrito and other food.

"We suspect that investors and consumers will be sensitive to this announcement, particularly in light of the adverse news flow over the last six months at Chipotle," CRT Capital analyst Lynne Collier said in note to clients.

"The publicity around this news announcement will be another negative data-point that may affect consumer demand."

Chipotle sales have fallen sharply since the E.coli outbreaks late last year.

The company temporarily closed all of its U.S. restaurants on Feb. 8 during prime lunch hours to hold staff meetings on food safety.

Up to Tuesday's close of $524.69, the company's stock had fallen about 18 percent since the first E.coli outbreak was reported on Oct. 31.

(This version of the story corrects to "Dec. 31" from "Jan. 31" in paragraph 5. The story was earlier corrected to show that E.coli outbreak linked to Chipotle was found in 10 states, not 14.)

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr and Jeffrey Benkoe)