Chipotle CEO 'deeply sorry' about customers who fell sick

NEW YORK (AP) -- Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells says he is "deeply sorry" about the customers who were sickened after eating at the chain in recent weeks.

"I'm sorry for the people who got sick. They're having a tough time and I feel terrible about that," Ells said in an interview on NBC's Today show.

Ells repeated the company's pledge to tighten food safety procedures to ensure such incidents do not happen again.

The public apology comes as sales at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. have been slammed by high-profile food scares in recent weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that at least 52 people in nine states have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak, with 47 of them having eaten at Chipotle. The most recent case happened Nov. 13.

The ingredient that sickened people has not been identified. But Chipotle says whatever the likely culprit was is out of its restaurants. The company has noted the exposure period for the outbreak appears to have passed.

Then this week, Boston College said more than 120 students fell ill after eating at the chain. Chipotle says it believes those illnesses are an isolated case of norovirus separate from the E. coli outbreak. Public health officials said Wednesday norovirus was found at the restaurant where sickened students ate.

In its annual report, Chipotle has noted it may be at a higher risk for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses because of its "fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation."

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