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Temperature abuse caused Chipotle outbreak: 3 things to know about it

At least 647 customers of a Chipotle near Columbus, Ohio, got sick after food was kept at unsafe temperatures, but they may never know what specific food item caused the illnesses.

Several have been completed in the last several weeks since the outbreak at the Powell, Ohio, Chipotle on Sawmill Parkway, where C. Perfringens were found in the stool. Here’s what you need to know about the illnesses:

1. Temperature abuse

The CDC has confirmed that there was a temperature abuse issue that lead to the outbreak, but the exact food source hasn’t been identified.

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After the Ohio Department of Health tested food samples, they froze them to be sent to the CDC, but there is an amount of time after which food tests are no longer accurate, said Traci Whittaker, spokeswoman for the Delaware County Health District. The district is unsure whether that time will be reached or not.

“The way that folks enjoy Chipotle dishes is to mix a lot of different foods together, so that might have a hindrance on the testing,” Whittaker said. “We’re not sure yet. We may never know what the source is.”

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2. The illnesses usually pop up when a protein isn’t heated enough to kill the bacteria.

C. perfringens can survive at very high temperatures, according to the CDC. The bacteria grows when foods cool to between 54 and 140 degrees. The live bacteria is then consumed if food is served without reheating to kill it, which leads to a toxin inside the intestine that causes illness.

The bacteria is usually found when proteins like meat or beans aren’t kept at hot enough temperatures. While the CDC hasn’t confirmed the food source that caused the outbreak, a July 31 health inspection showed that the Chipotle restaurant corrected one critical and one-non critical violation related to pinto beans and lettuce not being kept at correct temperatures.

The restaurant threw all of its food away as well before reopening, said Traci Whittaker, spokeswoman for the Delaware County Health District.

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3. The symptoms are serious, but not fatal.

The major symptoms of C. perfringens are severe abdominal pain and diarrhea, according to the CDC. These symptoms will develop within six to 24 hours of consumption, beginning suddenly and generally lasting less than a day. Like other diseases, anyone can be affected, but the young and elderly are more likely to get sick with weaker immune systems.

The bacterium isn’t contagious, and usually doesn’t come with fever or vomiting.

But Whittaker said a small number of people did report vomiting, likely as a result of pain from severe abdominal cramps. About 80 percent of the 647 interviewees had intense abdominal cramping and 90 percent reported diarrhea.

Antibiotics are not recommended in the case of C. perfringens. Instead, those affected should re-hydrate through drinking liquids and consuming electrolytes. In severe cases, the ill may require intravenous fluids to re-hydrate.

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