SEATTLE (AP) – Chris Collins has always been selective about where he goes out for a meal. He said he respected Chipotle for its food integrity and animal welfare policies.
But a week after being treated at a hospital for severe intestinal distress, Collins no longer considers the casual Mexican restaurant a safe choice.
Collins was one of at least 39 people in Oregon and Washington state to be sickened with E. coli in an outbreak linked to the popular chain.
“The reality is there was waste in my food. Something I can never be able to tell unless I got sick,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t seem to make sense to take that risk again.”
Collins decided to speak out about his experience after reading comments in the press and social media and concluding that people didn’t understand the severity of E. coli.
He also wanted people to understand how many things could go wrong in a restaurant and result in customers getting sick.
Washington state and Oregon health officials are testing fresh food from the 10 Chipotle restaurants associated with the E. coli outbreak, hoping to find evidence that leads them to what sickened Collins.
So far, their best guess is the bacteria will be found on fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro or onions, or possibly spices.
Chipotle voluntarily closed more than 40 restaurants in Oregon and Washington state when alerted by health officials of the E. coli outbreak.
State officials say Chipotle has been cooperating with their investigation. The company says it is doing some testing of its own to find out if it has a problem in its food-supply chain.
Two weeks after Collins ate a Chipotle chicken bowl with brown rice, black beans, tomato salsa, cheese and guacamole on the side, the active 32-year-old has missed nearly two weeks of work and still isn’t feeling great.
“I feel like I’m getting there. I’m still having some discomfort when I eat. I still feel very fatigued,” he said.
The self-employed web developer and photographer has been honest with his clients and friends about his illness. He says his interactions with clients and other people have helped him realize how dangerous the illness actually was.
“I feel like I dodged a bullet. I’m lucky that I’m in as good health as I am,” said Collins, who works out five to six times a week and loves to hike.
He initially thought he had the flu, with muscle aches, abdominal pain and an upset stomach.
“As each day passed, each of the symptoms got progressively worse,” Collins recalled. After going to the bathroom 16 to 20 times in one 12-hour period, he decided it was time to get medical help.
Collins went to urgent care first. They took one look at him and sent him to an emergency room. That’s when it started to get really scary. He didn’t connect his illness to Chipotle until the emergency room doctor called him the next day.
Now, he’s not willing to eat out at all and he and his wife are seriously considering becoming vegetarians.
“We’ve never gotten sick eating at home. When we go out it’s because of the convenience or to get something too complex to make ourselves,” Collins said. “Is it worth it, knowing you have no idea what goes into the process?”
Collins has contacted an attorney to talk about his options but has not decided whether he will file a lawsuit.
“I’m not dying at this point,” he said. “It was a very traumatic and difficult week and a half for me. I think I can be patient and see what happens.”
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