The CDC said Monday it's investigating a more recent batch of E. coli cases linked to Chipotle, and that it doesn't know yet if they're linked to a larger outbreak that began in October. So far, the agency said five people have been reported sick in the new outbreak, with illnesses starting between Nov. 18 and Nov. 26. All five said they ate at a Chipotle the week before they got sick. They include one person in Kansas and one in North Dakota—both of whom ate at the same Kansas location—and three in Oklahoma. The development is the latest bad news for Chipotle Mexican Grill, which saw its sales plummet after a larger E. coli outbreak that sickened 53 people in nine states. Chipotle rep Chris Arnold said in an email Monday that even the most recent exposures reported by the CDC are now a month old.
"We have indicated before that we expected that we may see additional cases stemming from this, and [the] CDC is now reporting some additional cases," Arnold wrote. Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells says he doesn't think the company will ever know for sure the exact ingredient that sickened customers in the larger outbreak, but that he believes it was bacteria in fresh food like tomatoes or cilantro. In its annual report, Chipotle has said it may be at a higher risk for outbreaks of foodborne illnesses because of its "fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation." To begin its image rehabilitation, Chipotle last week took out full-page ads in 61 newspapers around the country apologizing for the illnesses. Chipotle has also been linked to norovirus cases. (Read more E. coli stories.)