Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc has closed all 43 of its restaurants in and around Portland and Seattle as it struggles to contain an E. coli outbreak. Although Chipotle boasts about its healthy, unprocessed ingredients, with no GMOs allowed in its products, this is the third food safety incident for Chipotle this year. Authorities have identified 37 confirmed cases in Washington and Oregon so far, and the source of the contaminated food has not been identified yet.
E. coli is more than a “stomach bug”
While most cases of food poisoning resolve after a day or two, E. Coli contamination can cause serious, life-threatening illness. The Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 strain is estimated to cause 73,000 illnesses annually in the United States alone, with approximately 2,000 causes requiring hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that approximately 60 people die annually from the disease. Although E. coli is most commonly associated with contaminated meat, scientists believe that in this case, it’s possible that the bacteria hitched a ride on the restaurant chain’s lettuce, onions, tomatoes or spices.
Those illnesses and deaths come with a high cost, with roughly $370 million paid out for premature deaths, $5 million in lost productivity for those who cannot work while sick and $30 million spent on medical care for the most severely affected victims annually. And E. Coli is just one of many bacterial pathogens that collectively cost Americans more than $52 billion annually.
A tiny pathogen comes with a massive price tag
The latest outbreak has been bad for Chipotle’s bottom line, with stocks dropping 5% in response to the restaurant closings. But it has been even worse for those who ate the tainted food, with hospital bills and lost work time reaching tens of thousands of dollars per person. A Kelso, Washington woman has already sued Chipotle for $75,000 in medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages caused by the infection that sent her to the hospital.
Proper medical care for food-borne illnesses as severe as Escherichia coli may require multiple-day hospitals stays and time off work to recover from the disease. The most severe E. coli infections can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life-threatening condition that requires IV fluids, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. If you have been seriously sickened by contaminated food and you’re facing a hefty hospital bill, it may be time to consult a personal injury attorney.