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Chipotle founder apologizes for Brighton restaurant outbreak

Workers cleaned the closed Chipotle Restaurant in Cleveland Circle this week.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The founder of the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain apologized Thursday for the role his now-closed Brighton restaurant played in sickening scores of people, and he vowed that all of the company's establishments would be the safest places to eat in the near future.

Steve Ells said the company is cleaning the Cleveland Circle restaurant where customers, many of them Boston College students, are believed to have been exposed to norovirus. The Boston Public Health Commission and other agencies continue to investigate.

"This was a very unfortunate incident, and I am deeply sorry it happened,'' Ells said in an interview on NBC's "Today" program Thursday. "When we reopen, that restaurant will be completely sanitized and every single employee will be tested to assure they do not have the norovirus.''


Boston College reported Thursday that 141 students have said they suffered norovirus symptoms after eating last weekend at the Cleveland Circle Chipotle. An additional 12 who did not eat at Chipotle reported similar symptoms.

The commission has confirmed 91 cases connected to the restaurant and said other patients have caught the highly infectious virus from those diners.

The commission reported Thursday that laboratory testing is now complete, and all samples tested negative for bacterial infections, including E. coli.

Tests results received Tuesday had identified norovirus, so there is now little doubt about which germ caused the illnesses. But exactly how the virus was transmitted remains under investigation by the health commission, along with the city's Inspectional Services Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The BC men's basketball team, which had to cancel practice Monday because at least eight players were sick, lost to the Providence College Friars on Wednesday night. BC spokesman Jack Dunn said the players had all recovered.

The norovirus outbreak in Boston came after Chipotle faced an outbreak of E. coli at restaurants in nine states.


Ells said the E. coli outbreak has pushed the company into reviewing how the 64 ingredients used in its restaurants are handled, and to look into new ways of assuring food is safe.

"If there is a silver lining in this, it is we looked at every single ingredient we use,'' Ells said. "It has caused us to put into place practices . . . that will put us 10 to 15 years ahead of the industry norm. They are so far above the industry norm that we will be the safest place to eat.''

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com.