Chipotle Founder 'Deeply Sorry' for Restaurant-Linked Illnesses

The founder and CEO of Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle told the "TODAY" show Thursday morning he's "deeply sorry" for the norovirus and E. coli outbreaks that have sickened dozens who ate at his restaurants.

"I have to say I’m sorry for the people who got sick. They’re having a tough time and I feel terrible about that, and we're doing a lot to rectify this and to make sure this doesn’t happen again," Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells told the "TODAY" show Thursday.

Boston College officials say the number of students sickened by a norovirus outbreak traced to a local Chipotle restaurant has climbed to 120. (Published Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015)

It comes days after 120 Boston College students fell ill with norovirus after eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Boston's Brighton neighborhood. Boston health officials confirmed the presence of norovirus at the Cleveland Circle location on Tuesday.

The restaurant was closed and cited for three serious health violations.

"When we reopen, that restaurant will be completely sanitized and every single employee will be tested and assured that they do not have norovirus," Ells said Thursday in his first interview since the outbreak.

He said he doesn't expect the number cases to climb because everyone who contracted norovirus is likely exhibiting symptoms.

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Chipotle has also been plagued in recent months by an E. coli outbreak affecting at least 52 people in nine states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 47 of the people who fell ill ate at Chipotle.

Ells said the chain has taken measures to ensure it doesn't happen again, although testing by the Food and Drug Administration has failed to find the source of the disease.

"We closed our restaurants out of an abundance of caution and tested all our ingredients and surfaces — thousand and thousands of tests... and they all came back negative for E. coli," Ells explained.

He said the "silver lining" is that the outbreak prompted Chipotle to double down on its food safety measures and quality control, something Ells said has always been a prominent part of Chipotle's mission.

"It has caused us to put in place practices that our epidemiologist experts... says will put us 10 to 15 years ahead of industry norms, and I believe this will be the safest restaurant to eat at," Ells said.

When asked whether Chipotle can recover financially from the toll the outbreaks have taken, Ells said "certainly" but that his focus now is on "the safety and quality of our ingredients."

"This was a very unfortunate incident and I'm deeply sorry this happened," Ells said.