Chipotle's stock dives after news of sick customers at Virginia restaurant

By Food and Beverage FOXBusiness

A Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on April 25, 2016. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) confirmed on Tuesday that it temporarily closed one of its restaurants in Virginia after multiple customers fell ill, sending shares of the company in a tailspin.

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The restaurant chain said that a “small number” of reported illnesses were connected to its Sterling, Virginia location, which shut its doors on Monday. Jim Marsden, executive director of food safety, said Chipotle notified local health officials of the issue. The symptoms are consistent with norovirus.

“We are working with health authorities to understand what the cause may be and to resolve the situation as quickly as possible,” Marsden said. “Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle.”

Chipotle said it plans to reopen the restaurant on Tuesday after conducting a “complete sanitization.” Marsden noted that norovirus is very contagious and can spread quickly in closed areas, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says norovirus is the most common cause of vomiting and other gastrointestinal symptoms in the world.

The news brought back memories of the widespread E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks that hit Chipotle restaurants in 2015. The outbreaks affected hundreds of people in 13 states and drove customers away from the fast-casual chain. Following the outbreak, Chipotle reported five straight quarters of weaker sales.

Chipotle shares dropped 7% to $364.77 in recent trading.

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Chipotle had recently begun to recover from its food-safety issues, reporting profits on improved sales. However, the Denver-based company is dealing with the fallout from a data breach that targeted customer payment data at most of its stores.

The latest food-safety scare initially surfaced in a Business Insider report, which cited customer complaints on a website called iwaspoisened.com.

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