Is It Safe to Eat at Chipotle?

woman walking into chipotle

Unless you've been hiding under a rock (or you hate burritos), you know that lots of people have been getting sick after eating at Chipotle. Salmonella, norovirus, E. Coli -- it's pretty serious. So much so that the government is now conducting a criminal investigation to see just what's plaguing the Denver-based burrito chain.

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What exactly does this mean to you and your fam? Is it safe to still eat at one of Chipotle's 1,931 locations? Or is it going to make you puke your guts out?

The Stir asked Jeffrey Nelken -- a food safety expert who works with restaurants, casinos, and food manufacturers and is a certified trainer with the Los Angeles Health Department -- to, er, dish.

For starters, Nelken says, there's no way yet of knowing just what's causing all these problems at Chipotle restaurants around the country.

"At any step from when food is picked at a farm to when it arrives at a central distribution center to when it gets to, and is handled at, a restaurant, contamination could take place," says Nelken. "A lot of questions need to be answered."

Complicating matters is the fact that bacteria that causes food-borne illness is "constantly mutating," Nelken says. So investigators are facing a CSI-worthy case. Just with, um, rice and beans.

More from The Stir: Top 10 Ways Your Kitchen is Trying to Kill You (PHOTOS)

Surprisingly, Nelken doesn't think this uncertainty means we should all steer clear of buying a burrito bowl. "I would eat at a Chipotle if the local health department had gone in there and put a label on the door saying that it's okay to eat there," he tells The Stir.

You might not be able to know -- or control -- if someone, say, sneezes on your spinach when it's picked in the field. But you can take a good look at the restaurant you're standing in and get some idea of how risky it is for you to eat there.

"Keep your eyes and nose open," cautions Nelken."When you walk into any restaurant, what do you see? What do you smell? Is it a clean place? Or does it smell like feces or a sour mop has been used to clean the floor?"

Be observant of small details. Do the menus look like they've been touched by dozens of grubby hands and not wiped down? Is the person making your food wearing plastic gloves? Do they have their hair neatly pulled back? Is the same mop being used to clean the bathroom then dragged into the kitchen?

If something's obviously not clean, play it safe (and smart!) and eat at a different restaurant or at home. Otherwise, go ahead and order. There's probably no reason to freak out.

After all, "there's always bacteria in the environment," Nelken notes. "You're not living in a bubble. Bacteria is probably growing in the reusable grocery bags you take to the store every week. Even hospitals have super-germs."

 

Image via Northfoto/Shutterstock

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