A rash of high-profile food poisoning outbreaks at popular Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle has spurred a federal criminal investigation, particularly tied to a norovirus outbreak this summer at one of its California restaurants in Simi Valley. According to an Associated Press news report, the investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The restaurant chain has been reeling from E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks in states across the nation. Chipotle is facing a number of civil personal injury lawsuits from those who have been affected by the food-borne illness outbreaks. This is apparently the first time federal prosecutors are looking at a food poisoning outbreak in one single restaurant. Criminal investigations are also extremely rare in food poisoning cases.
Criminal Charges Likely
It’s not clear what federal investigators are looking for, but they may be interested in internal memos or the immigration status of the 18 restaurant workers who also contracted the norovirus that may have caused the outbreak. Health inspections at the Simi Valley restaurant also showed that the meat was no held at a high enough temperature and that the kitchen was unclean.
To charge the company with a felony crime, prosecutors must show that Chipotle or its employees deliberately served adulterated or contaminated food to customers. But for a misdemeanor charge, they only need to show that an employee could have prevented the outbreak, even if he or she was unaware of it.
Compensation for Victims
As California food poisoning attorneys, we will be closely watching the results of this investigation and what comes out of it. If Chipotle employees or managers deliberately served contaminated food to customers, they should certainly be held criminally liable. It’s important that they be held financially responsible for the injuries, damages and losses sustained by victims as well.
Injured victims of food-borne illnesses can seek compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, hospitalization, pain and suffering and emotional distress. Victims would also be well advised to contact an experienced California personal injury lawyer who will ensure that they are fairly compensated for their losses and that the negligent food producers or eateries are held accountable.