The Kent city health commissioner said it was unclear whether the Chipotle Mexican Grill on Main Street would reopen Saturday after at least 34 people, many of them Kent State University students, became ill Thursday with suspected food poisoning after eating at the restaurant.
''They all ate burritos,'' Health Commissioner John Ferlito said.
Sick people started showing up at the emergency room of Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna about 10 p.m. Thursday with similar symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, said Robert Walker, the hospital's EMS coordinator.
It became clear after the first several cases that all had eaten at the Kent Chipotle prior to getting ill, he said.
''When you start to see a combination of the same sort of things, it's usually food poisoning. There is a process to go through to confirm what it is, though that is the suspicion,'' Walker said.
Ferlito said health officials haven't been able to narrow the illness down to anything more specific than burritos, all of which contained a variety of ingredients.
''Some ate chicken, some ate steak, some had rice and some had beans; there was guacamole, so we're not sure,'' Ferlito said.
Most of the patients had eaten at the restaurant an average of 26 hours before getting ill, although some became ill as soon as five hours after eating there, Ferlito said.
The health department got involved Friday morning and inspected the eatery, which voluntarily agreed to close for the day while the restaurant was cleaned and sanitized.
Ferlito didn't find any violations — food that wasn't being stored properly or coolers that weren't up to standard — and inspectors took samples of a variety of foods. He said several employees at the restaurant also reported being ill over the past several days and they also had eaten the restaurant's food.
As of Friday afternoon it was unclear whether health officials would ask the restaurant to remain closed for more than one day, he said.
Chris Arnold, spokesman for the Denver-based restaurant chain, issued a statement saying the company would continue to assist the health department with its investigation.
''A follow-up inspection conducted by the health department (Friday) this morning found that the restaurant met or exceeded all health department requirements. We voluntarily closed our restaurant to do a preventive sanitization, and will continue to assist the health department as it continues its investigation,'' the statement said.
Arnold, however, stressed in e-mails that the company hasn't seen any proof that the illnesses are food related.
''We have not seen anything to suggest that it is a food-related issue,'' he said.
In its marketing, Chipotle says it serves, ''Food with integrity,'' which is described on its corporate Web site as, ''unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal.''
The philosophy, has ''led us to serve more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country, to push for more sustainable practices in produce farming, and to work with dairy suppliers to eliminate the use of added hormones from their operations,'' the Web site states.
In addition to Kent, there are Chipotle locations in Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Macedonia, Canton, Medina, Wooster and throughout the Cleveland area. One is scheduled to open soon in Green.
Arnold said the incident is ''isolated to this one restaurant.''
Most of the people who became ill Thursday and Friday were KSU students, some of whom also sought treatment at the university's DeWeese Health Center. Walker said Robinson Memorial has given the health center additional supplies and equipment to help deal with the illnesses.
So far no one has required hospitalization for their illness, and they are getting better. ''It's passing through their systems quickly,'' Ferlito said.
Robinson Memorial spokeswoman Jennifer Farquhar said anyone who has eaten at the restaurant who is experiencing any of the symptoms should seek treatment from a doctor or at an emergency room if their symptoms are severe.
Anyone who thinks they might have become ill after eating at the restaurant should report the illness to the health department at 330-678-8109.
Robinson Memorial also operates a help line at 330-297-2850 for individuals who want to speak with a nurse.