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SABOTAGE? CDC investigating another outbreak of different E. coli strain at Chipotle

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(Anita Balakrishnan)  Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill hit a 52-week low Monday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it is investigating another, more recent outbreak of a different strain of E. coli linked to the restaurant chain.

The CDC does not know yet if the more recent cases are tied to a larger outbreak that began at the end of October.

Five ill people were identified in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma as part of the new investigation, on dates ranging from Nov.18 to Nov. 26, 2015. The new Illnesses are not included in the current case count, which is now at 53, the CDC report said.

On Oct. 31, an outbreak of E. coli was first linked to the chain, mostly in Washington and Oregon. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Oct. 19 to Nov. 13.



Twenty ill people were hospitalized during that outbreak, according to the CDC

Chipotle announced it would revise its standards after reports of illnesses, with measures like high-resolution testing of ingredients, end of shelf-life testing of ingredients, continuous improvement in the supply system based on testing data and enhanced food safety training for team members.

“I will say though, that we can assure you today that there is no E. coli in Chipotle,” founder and co-CEO Steve Ells told CNBC’s Jim Cramer last week. “We have thoroughly tested our food, we have thoroughly tested our surfaces and we are confident that Chipotle is a safe place to eat.”

A Chipotle spokesman told CNBC on Monday that the company is “confident” it can achieve a level of food safety risk that is near zero.

“We have indicated before that we expected that we may see additional cases stemming from this, and CDC is now reporting some additional cases,” the spokesman said. “Since this issue began, we have completed a comprehensive reassessment of our food safety programs with an eye to finding best practices for each of the ingredients we use.”

Shares of Chipotle fell 6.1 percent before rebounding slightly to $521.50, a drop of 3.6 percent, in late trading Monday.

William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia told CNBC she has a “buy” rating on the stock, and is not rethinking it because of the recent outbreak issues.

“I think they’re doing everything realistically that they can,” Zackfia said. “Again, given the lag between when the illness is contracted and when the symptoms arise, and how quickly they turn over their produce, it may be impossible to actually link it to a specific item. I mean, that might just be the truth of the matter. And I think that’s part of the reason why their new food safety protocol that they will be implementing and have started to implement kind of goes above and beyond anything that you might expect.”