Chipotle Mexican Grill said Wednesday that it had been served with a grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation related to a norovirus outbreak at a California restaurant.
The disclosure came as the chain projected a double-digit decline in sales after several outbreaks linked to food-borne illnesses.
The company will formally report its financial results on Feb. 2. But on Wednesday, Chipotle warned investors that it expected a drop of 14.6 percent in same-store sales for its fourth quarter. For the month of December, same-store restaurant sales were down 30 percent, Chipotle said.
The company said Wednesday that the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California had issued a subpoena for information related to a norovirus outbreak in August at a Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley, Calif. The inquiry was also being conducted with the Food and Drug Administration’s office of criminal investigations.
Norovirus, which can be spread from contaminated food or water, causes stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In December, news reports said the outbreak in California was larger than had been publicized at the time.
Norovirus was also at the center of an episode in which about 120 Boston College students were taken ill in December after eating at a Chipotle restaurant near the campus. Chipotle said Wednesday that particular case had resulted in a weekly drop of 34 percent in same-store sales, a measure of revenue closely followed in the retail industry.
The company had already been in the spotlight after various restaurants around the country, including one in Shawnee, reported outbreaks of E. coli bacteria. In early November, Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon because of outbreaks. The bacteria typically live in the intestines of animals and people, but some strains can cause illness or even death.