The Australian beef industry says claims its beef was to blame for damaging foodborne illness outbreaks at Chipotle Mexican Grill are unsubstantiated.
Several media outlets were reporting the burrito chain said privately Australian beef was to blame for some of the E. coli outbreaks that sickened hundreds of customers since last July.
“Chipotle concluded the E. coli was most likely from contaminated Australian beef,” the Wall Street Journal wrote, citing unnamed sources.
The Denver-based chain has not stated publically Australian beef was the culprit, and the company has repeatedly said it will not comment on investigations into a series of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks tied to Chipotle restaurants at various locations across the country.
The outbreaks sickened more than 500 people in the past six months, U.S. health officials said. Chipotle is facing a federal criminal investigation into the outbreaks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Feb. 1 E. coli outbreaks linked to the chain “appeared to be over.” The CDC and Food and Drug Administration said the source ingredient of the outbreaks could not be identified.
The Australian beef industry went on the offensive after the alleagations surfaced in media reports.
Australia’s Department of Agriculture said there was “no evidence linking Australian beef exports with recent cases of foodborne illness associated with the Chipotle restaurants in the U.S.”
“Australia had no U.S. port of entry detections of bacterial contamination (E. coli) in the almost 500 million kilograms of beef exported in 2014 and 547 million kilograms of beef exported up until December 2015,” a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture told the Australian Associated Press.
Chipotle is closing its 2,000 stores for four hours Feb. 8 to discuss the chain’s newly implemented food safety measures with its employees nationwide, which include stepped-up inspections of beef and other food items before they are distributed to the chain’s restaurants for meal preparation.