PhotoAn outbreak of E. coli in the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon have affected 39 people to date. The sickness has been traced back to a popular food chain -- Chipotle Mexican Grill -- and has forced a shutdown of all 43 restaurants in those areas since October 31.

While only eight of the 43 outlets are suspected to have contributed to the outbreak, all have been closed to ensure that it remains contained. The company is in the process of deep-cleaning each location, testing and replacing food products, and hiring consultants to review and update food safety protocols.

Controlling the outbreak

Critics believe that the outbreak was caused, in part, due to Chipotle's stance on only using fresh, additive-free ingredients – something that has attracted many young, health-conscious consumers since the company's inception.

Unfortunately, using additive-free ingredients means that food products do not contain preservatives, which are used to help prevent bacteria such as E. coli from flourishing. Analysts are unsure at this point as to which ingredients are the source of the outbreak.

While the outbreak of this strain of E. coli is not as severe as others that have come up in the past, consumers who contracted the illness still face a tough road ahead. If you have eaten at a Chipotle in the month of October and have experienced symptoms like bloody diarrhea or vomiting, you are encouraged to visit your health care provider and mention this outbreak right away.

Doctors are asked to take samples and submit them to health care authorities so that they can be tested. This will help verify whether or not the outbreak has spread further. While most people who have contracted this strain of E. coli admit to eating at a Chipotle restaurant, not all of them have.

Financial woes

This outbreak is sure to hurt Chipotle financially, which has already seen a drop in sales as of late. Shares in the company have dropped steadily since mid-October; their stock closed at just over $750 dollars on October 13, but has dropped to $614.98 as of Wednesday.

In addition to losing the revenue from the closed outlets, many people may think twice before eating at the chain again. “Even after the company sounds the 'all-clear,' we believe that it will take some time for traffic to return,” said Stephen Anderson, restaurant analyst from the Maxim Group.  

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