Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich (Self proclaimed as America’s Favorite Sandwich Delivery Guys) franchises like to be known for “freaky fast delivery.” They’re getting to be known for tainted sprouts in their stores as well. This marks the fourth outbreak of E. Coli linked to Jimmy John’s stores.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a release on Wednesday that 12 cases of E. coli poisoning in five states are linked to raw clover sprouts eaten at Jimmy John’s restaurants. This outbreak comes on the heels of an outbreak last year – raw alfalfa sprouts from one of the chain’s suppliers were linked to 140 salmonella illnesses. One of the chain’s suppliers were also linked to a 2009 salmonella outbreak in several Midwestern states and were suspected in an E. coli outbreak in Boulder, Colo. in 2008. Eek.
So what does Jimmy John’s have to say about this? Well, nothing. Not a word. Not a single peep. After their last bouts of salmonella contamination the company said they would switch from alfalfa to clover sprouts in a move to mitigate further risk. Clover sprouts are apparently easier to clean than alfalfa sprouts, said the company. Not that washing does much of anything, as E. Coli contamination generally occurs when the sprouts are seeds and there’s little if anything you can do after the initial contamination occurs. Aside from the legal implications (search E. Coli lawyer as a search term – I never knew there was such a thing – let alone that I actually had to choose between them) it’s probably good business practice to say something….anything. As a company you have to know at this point that you’re making a pay-day for someone. Staying silent is just….creepy.
Sprouts, as you’re probably aware, are all over the place as a “healthy option” but this belies the fact that sprouts need warm and humid conditions to grow, encouraging bacterial growth. Many restaurants have actually stopped serving them altogether after multiple outbreaks. The government warns about consuming raw sprouts, recommending that the very young, elderly, pregnant and others with compromised immune systems stay away completely. Fully cooked sprouts are safe to eat, as you might imagine.
According to the CDC, more than 30 outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts have occurred in the United States in the last 15 years. Around the world there are countless more, including a 1996 outbreak in Japan that sickened thousands of people with E. coli. Fenugreek sprout seeds originating from Egypt are thought to have caused a major outbreak of E. coli poisoning in Europe last year that killed more than 50 people.
Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin are the areas where effected sprouts have caused illness. The illnesses occurred between Dec. 25 and Jan. 15 and two of the victims were hospitalized. No one has died. All have been woman, ranging in age from 9 to 49.
As previously noted, it’s no knock on the cleanliness or preparation of the restaurant. It’s a supplier issue. Contamination usually happens when the seeds are grown or harvested and is often impossible to wash off.
Food safety lawyer Bill Marler has represented victims in the three previous sprout outbreaks potentially linked to Jimmy John’s. He has pushed the FDA to require warning labels on sprouts and praises restaurants that have taken them off the menu.
“You have to wonder what this company is thinking,” he said.