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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2008

Grill near Kent State shuttered after rash of illnesses


KENT, Ohio - About 50 people at Kent State University became ill after eating at a restaurant that the company has closed and state health officials are investigating.

Kent health department officials inspected Chipotle Mexican Grill yesterday, one day after students went to the university's health center and Robinson Memorial Hospital with similar symptoms: severe vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.

"They all ate burritos," Kent Health Commissioner John Ferlito said.

Many of the patients also had donated blood and received a coupon for free food.

Forty-seven people reported becoming ill after eating at the burrito restaurant late Thursday and Friday. The illness took about 26 hours to take effect and lasted another 24 hours.

Robinson Memorial Hospital in nearby Ravenna started seeing students with the symptoms about 10 p.m. Thursday.

"When you start to see a combination of the same sort of things, it's usually food poisoning," said Robert Walker, the hospital's emergency medical coordinator.

No one required hospitalization.

Inspectors were at the restaurant yesterday morning to determine when Chipotle can reopen its doors. Mr. Ferlito said he didn't find any health violations.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold issued a statement pledging cooperation. "We voluntarily closed our restaurant to do a preventive sanitization, and will continue to assist the health department as it continues its investigation," he said.

But he emphasized there was no proof that food was to blame.

"We have not seen anything to suggest that it is a food-related issue," he said.

Mr. Ferlito said the only common link among those who reported illness was the restaurant, which is directly across from campus. Rice, guacamole, or a mild sauce are all suspected reasons for the illness.

The Ohio Department of Health said officials were testing food and workers for any illnesses.

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