In late August 2015 Ventura County Environmental Health and Ventura County Public Health investigated an outbreak of norovirus occurring among customers of the Chipotle Restaurant located at Simi Valley Towne Center. Ill customers ate at the restaurant on August 18 or August 19. Symptoms began between 3 and 30 hours after patrons ate at the restaurant. Commonly reported symptoms were nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, body aches, stomach cramps and chills. At least two customers submitted stool specimens that were positive for norovirus.
The restaurant was closed on August 21 for a thorough cleaning. All food was discarded and surfaces were cleaned. Ill food handlers were told they could not return to work until five days after symptoms resolved. Food handlers who tested positive for norovirus could not return to work until laboratory tests were negative for norovirus.
The outbreak was summarized in an inspection report written by Ventura County Environmental Health inspector, Ramesh Bassiri. Mr. Bassiri documented a report of two complaints encompassing three individuals who had eaten at Chipotle between August 16 and August 20. He noted that the Chipotle area manager had been alerted to illnesses via a computer complaint hotline. By August 24, as many as 46 customers and 17 employees were ill. The number of ill customers would grow and as many as 100 Chipotle customers reported symptoms.
Mr. Bassiri conducted an inspection at the restaurant on August 24. Numerous violations were noted. Employees did not have valid food handler cards, a requirement for employment. Inspector Bassiri observed an accumulation of mildew on the inside of the ice machine and on the backsplash of the ware washing sink as well as an accumulation of grease and food debris in the deep fryer. Restrooms were in disrepair and ceiling tiles were missing. Employees were instructed to keep floors clean and maintained. These violations needed to be corrected and a follow up inspection would be conducted within several days.
On August 27 Mr. Bassiri returned to the restaurant. This time he observed a serious food safety practice. A container of beef was held at 118oF on the steam table, considerably below the 135oF required by California food code regulations. The food item was discarded. Most of the violations noted on August 24 had been corrected. The item not corrected was a repair of a damaged gasket to a “merchandiser” located at the front of the service counter. Mr. Bassiri emphasized the importance of handwashing and provided restaurant employees with handouts and stickers.
The report reveals that the Simi Valley outbreak was larger than any of the other four outbreaks Chipotle has suffered since July, including the ongoing norovirus outbreak mostly involving Boston College students, the two E. coli outbreaks, and the Salmonella Newport outbreak in Minnesota in August. Together, these events have sickened more than 490 people.
The Simi Valley chronology was prepared by the Environmental Health Division of Ventura County’s Resource Management Agency. The first report of illness at the Chipotle Mexican Grill at 1263 Simi Town Center Way came to the agency’s executive officer by email at 9:36 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. A man said that his daughter, one of 16 students, had dined at that Chipotle restaurant and was ill. And, the students were all sick, and one was in the hospital.
The county’s chronology includes detailed tracking of the complaints as they came in and as the illnesses were confirmed as norovirus. From that first report through Sept. 25, 2015, the chronology comes to this conclusion: “the total number of reportedly ill customers and employees at this Chipotle outbreak investigation is 234.”
Here are the public records of the California norovirus outbreak: