I almost feel bad about ragging on these guys. Again. I mean, hasn't Chipotle had more than enough problems in the past couple of years? But the company's silly GMO-free campaign was so smug and disingenuous that I'll be able to live with myself. Even after this, which may not be the nicest thing I've ever written.
Our office does not have sufficient bandwidth for me to locate all the less-than-flattering things I've written about the company, so these will have to do for background:
Chipotle's Year From Hell-A-Peno
Chipotle Takes The Stairway To Heavin'
Suffice it to say that Chipotle has managed to give many people food poisoning with:
- E. coli
Even more impressive is that the restaurant chain somehow found a way to poison people with all three of these germs (2) in five separate outbreaks in less than six months during 2015. This a quite an accomplishment! Take it from an expert:
Of the three pathogens, the one that interests me most is the last—norovirus (1), aka "the stomach flu." Norovirus usually hits in the winter (graph below), yet somehow it found its way into Chipotle's "food chain" very much off-season. So much so that right now just happens to be the absolute "worst" time of the year to catch it. So what on earth is going on here? Since norovirus is practically non-existent in the summer, perhaps you are wondering where it came from.
Norovirus outbreaks by month. Source: CDC
So, it's time for A STUPID CONSPIRACY THEORY (Mike Adams, take note) and a little virology lesson, which is rather interesting.
Norovirus is considered to be the most contagious virus on earth; it takes only 18 virus particles to start an infection. This is a crazy low number. Perhaps even crazier is the fact that despite this, the virus refuses to grow in cultured cells in the lab, something that has severely hampered research in this area (3,4). Although this may seem odd, it is not unprecedented. The inability to grow hepatitis C virus, even in liver cells, would have been a very bad problem for drug development if not for work from academic labs, something I recently wrote about (See: Hepatitis C: Academia And Industry Work Together To Find A Cure.)
OK, chemtrails people, naturopaths, and fluoride screwballs. It's time to get your three-cylinder conspiracy engines going.
- Norovirus is rare in the summer.
- But it keeps popping up in the same place!
- It has been very difficult to make the virus.
- Everyone else is out to get me so why not Chipotle?
Could it be that Chipotle isn't what it seems? Perhaps it is a CIA dark ops enterprise, whose real purpose is to poison what few Americans have managed to survive despite the best efforts of drug companies, Bigfoot, airlines, Monsanto, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Roswell aliens. I'd say that this is plausible, if not likely.
After all, the virus is actually considered to be a biological warfare agent. Hmmm.
Well, if others can have their stupid conspiracy theories, then I should have the right to have my own. But regardless of how nuts you are, you should have the right to eat in a restaurant without ending up in the hospital.
I genuinely feel bad for the employees and whatever customers were brave enough to visit Chipotle. This latest fiasco isn't their fault. Maybe a slight change in the menu will help.
(1) For more on norovirus see:
Giving Norovirus The Heave Ho?
Norovirus: From Satan's Biohazard Lab To Your Duodenum
(2) For hockey fans only: Don't you think this should be called the "Mexican Hat-Trick Dance?"
(3) A 2015 paper in Nature finally overcame this problem, but it's not easy.
(4) The ability to grow a virus in cultured cells is critical for scientists who are trying to discover antiviral drugs. This enables researchers to set up an automated system that can test more than one million chemical compounds to see if any of them stop the growth of the virus. This technique is called high throughput screening and is perhaps the most important tool in drug discovery.