Chipotle's efforts to move past its food scares have been complicated by fresh reports of illnesses, which prompted it to temporarily close a restaurant this week, the AP reports. The company said Tuesday that it closed the restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, after it became aware of a "small number" of reported illnesses consistent with norovirus. The news sent the restaurant's shares down more than 4% as skittish investors worried about the chain's past food scares. Chipotle noted that norovirus, which can cause nausea and diarrhea, does not come from its food supply and said it is safe to eat at its restaurants. But the company has previously said that given its history, any food safety incidents could have an outsized negative impact on its sales, even if reports turn out to be erroneous or stem from factors outside its control.
Chipotle has been working to bounce back from food scares that included an E. coli outbreak in the fall of 2015 and a norovirus case in Boston later that year. It subsequently said it made tweaks to cooking methods and added training for employees to tighten its safety measures. The company also gave away coupons for free burritos and stepped up marketing to win back customers. Sales had been showing improvement against a low bar of comparison. For the first three months of this year, sales were up 18% at established locations. That followed a 20% decline for all of 2016. The company said it planned to reopen the Virginia restaurant, which is in a suburb of Washington, DC, on Tuesday after a "complete sanitization," but did not provide a specific time. (Read more Chipotle stories.)