By: Candess Zona-Mendola
The Chicken & Rice Guys restaurant chain and fleet of food trucks remain closed pending investigations by several health agencies. The company confirms that its locations remained closed throughout the weekend and may be able to reopen as early as the middle of the week next week. According to The Chicken & Rice Guys’ Chief Executive officer Ian So, the company’s closure of its locations and fleet was voluntary. So commented,
“Currently, we have not figured out the cause and have decided to voluntarily shutdown affected operations…”
“…After passing our inspections, CNR voluntarily decided to shut down all operations out of an abundance of caution and concern for our customers. All CNR locations will remain closed today while we work closely with Dept. of Health inspectors…”
The chain launched in 2012 and has steadily grown over the last few years. The restaurant, which boasts it is the 10th fastest growing restaurant in Massachusetts and the 206th fastest growing company in the United States, appears to be having some growing pains. So has come forward and states that the company had expansion plans, which now have been placed on hold. The company’s operations licenses also remain temporarily suspended by the local health agencies.
Expansion Plans on Hiatus
In 2015, So commented in an interview that his goal was to expand the restaurant chain to Seattle. This weekend, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that So’s plans for a Seattle expansion have been placed on hold. So informed the media outlet that the company is putting all of its focus on the outbreak. According to So,
“We had a team meeting with everybody, and we all agreed that we should do things 100 percent correct more than expand… The funny thing is, we never push our people to get more sales. They really like being here. We need to focus on doing everything 100 percent right.” So confirmed that the company has hired a third-party business to sanitize and clean all restaurants and food trucks. The contracted company will also retrain all The Chicken & Rice Guys employees on food safety practices and issues.
Investigation Status – Updates and Tests Pending
Several agencies have assembled together to investigate this outbreak after an anonymous tip. The agencies, which include: the Massachusetts Department of Health, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local health departments in Boston, Somerville, and Medford, are jointly investigating the outbreak linked to the company that currently has 15 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7. Ten people have been hospitalized. There have been no reports of whether the confirmed victims have fully recovered and there appears to be no deaths related to this outbreak.
During an interview with the Boston Globe, Boston Public Health Commission’s Director of Infectious Disease Bureau, Dr. Anita Barry, confirmed that none of those sickened have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. The victims, whose illnesses are linked to exposures between March 27, 2017 through April 6, 2017, range in age from their twenties to their forties. No children appear to be linked to this outbreak. The majority of those ill, 9 victims, live in the Greater Boston area, while the remaining victims live in neighboring cities.
The health agencies are currently testing over 100 employees of The Chicken & Rice Guys for E. coli. Health officials have confirmed that specimens from the company’s employees are currently being analyzed by the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory. Media reports confirm that if any employee tests positive for E. coli, they must show two negative tests in order to return to work and serve food.
The agencies have also obtained samples of the company’s food products for testing. According to a recent interview by So, “The state is testing all of our food… I would like to think it’s a contaminated product. We did not have anybody sick at that time.” So confirmed that the common items to every meal are lettuce, rice, and pita bread. It is not yet known if any of these items could be the source of contamination.
The investigators maintain that they are keeping an open mind about the outbreak. Boston Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher, Jr. commented that the agencies are” taking this [the outbreak investigation] very seriously.” The City of Boston is well known for its rigorous rules and regulations for food trucks. During the health inspections on The Chicken & Rice Guys this week, health agents did uncover several minor food safety issues. Some of the violations include:
- Single use to go containers observed being stored directly next to hand sink with no splash guard.
- Single service to go containers observed being stored directly next to hand sink with no protective barrier.
- Single use to go containers observed being stored directly next to hand sink with no protective barrier.
- Lack of hair restraints
The company has confirmed that it is working with the health departments to remedy the issues.
E. coli Contamination – Where Could It Have Come From?
Where could have E. coli come from that contaminated the food from The Chicken & Rice Guys? The answer is not so simple. Presently, health agents are checking the food and employees as possible sources. Contamination may have come from a sick employee, undercooked meat, or even polluted water. But E. coli can come from several places. E. coli is that it is a bacterium that lives in the digestive tract of humans and animals. E. coli can live on many surfaces, from soils to the floor in your home, from your bathroom to a doorknob. Researchers are still conducting studies about how long E. coli can survive on surfaces. Their general estimates show anywhere from 25 days in leafy greens to over 100 days in water sources.
If You Are Sick, Medical Attention is Recommended
If you have eaten food from The Chicken & Rice Guys recently, and have become ill, medical attention is advised. Symptoms of E. coli may include: watery, and sometimes bloody, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or cramping, vomiting, and sometimes, a low grade fever. More severe cases may develop a reduction in urination, pale skin, easy bruising, and extreme fatigue.