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Chipotle E. coli scare: Is it safe to eat there?

Justina Huddleston is an editor and the head writer for TDmonthly Magazine. She has been a freelance writer for several years, though her real passion is cooking. You can see the recipes she creates on her vegan food blog, A Life of Litt...

Chipotle E. coli outbreak closes 43 stores — find out if yours is affected

Burrito lovers, beware: Chipotle is in the middle of an E. coli scare.

The beloved burrito joint has shuttered 43 of its restaurants in Washington and Oregon after at least 22 people fell ill from being exposed to E. coli bacteria. Eight of the 22 were sick enough that they needed to be hospitalized.

Nineteen people in Washington and three in Portland, Oregon, reported illness after eating at Chipotle. The infection has been traced to six Chipotle locations, though the exact source of the contamination has yet to be found.

Just how bad can an E. coli infection be?

E. coli infection can cause extreme gastrointestinal distress, from stomach cramps and vomiting to bloody diarrhea. And it depends on the person and the strain of E. coli, but infections can be life threatening.

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One of the infected told CNN affiliate KATU that, "I've never gotten sick like this... The excruciating pain in my abdomen was something I've never experienced. It feels like your guts are being ripped out."

The bacteria are found in human and animal fecal matter and can make their way into the food system either from fertilizer that remains on produce or as a result of food handlers not thoroughly washing their hands before touching the food.

So is it safe to eat at Chipotle?

The illnesses have been linked to six restaurants in Seattle and Portland, but the company is trying to be as cautious as possible. As a result, the chain has shuttered 43 of its restaurants in the area.

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Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, told Eater, "We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems... We are working with health department officials to determine the cause of this issue. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."

Fortunately the company seems to be on top of things, and chances are that if you don't live in the Seattle or Portland areas, you'll be just fine getting a burrito bowl for lunch. And don't forget that you should always wash your hands before you eat or prepare foods to help minimize the risk of infection.

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