Following a criminal investigation for seeking information about a norovirus outbreak at a California restaurant, Chipotle Mexican Grill, on Wednesday stated that it had been served a federal grand jury subpoena. Subpoena is a writ that orders a person to attend a court.
This does not happen usually pointing towards an unusual step taken by the federal authorities in this case. It remains unclear whether Chipotle was the target of an inquiry or it is a part of a food supply chain. No comments however came from federal officials in this regard. According to Bill Marler, who is a food safety lawyer, the federal inquiry in this case is not usual.
According to experts, nothing is clear about what might have prompted the inquiry.
There have been a series of food-related illnesses, including outbreaks of E-coli in some states, which has led to a serious setback for Chipotle. It had to close some restaurants due to the outbreaks. The company had already been in the spotlight after various restaurants around the country reported outbreaks of E. coli bacteria.
According to Chipotle, there was a 30 per cent drop in sales in December alone in 2015 and its stock has tumbled since news of the outbreaks began.
No comments have come from the company beyond the filing.
According to Doug Beach, manager of the community services program at the Ventura County Environmental Health Division, eating at one of Chipotle s restaurant in Simi Valley, California, about 207 people, including 18 Chipotle employees, had fallen ill in mid-August last year. The restaurant was closed down, cleaned and reopened but his agency was not informed about this move as restaurants usually contact the department immediately following a food-borne illness case.
A norovirus episode was reported in December when 120 Boston College students reported getting sick after eating at a Chipotle restaurant.
Chipotle said in a filing that the subpoena was issued by the U.S. attorney s office for the Central District of California in an inquiry it is conducting with the Food and Drug Administration s Office of Criminal Investigations. Several documents are needed for a subpoena but Chipotle did not say whether it was the target of the investigation.
Representatives of the FDA and the U.S. attorney s office declined to comment.
With inputs from New York Times News Service