Federal officials said Wednesday preliminary investigative findings indicate that sprouts served by the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain are behind a five-state E. Coli outbreak that has sickened 12 people.
Representatives for Champaign, Ill.-based Jimmy John’s had no comment about the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta linking the E. coli O26 illnesses to raw clover sprouts served in some of the chain’s more than 1,200 restaurants.
CDC officials said investigators have identified a common lot of clover seeds used to grow clover sprouts served at the Jimmy John’s restaurant locations where people got sick, and on Feb. 12 the supplier of those seeds notified users they should stop using seeds from that lot.
“This investigation is ongoing, but preliminary results of the epidemiologic and traceback investigations indicate eating raw clover sprouts at Jimmy John's restaurants is the likely cause of this outbreak,” the CDC report said.
CDC representatives said two of the stricken individuals were hospitalized and the number of reported illnesses and the states in which they were reported were: Iowa, 5; Missouri, 3; Kansas, 2; and one each in Arkansas and Wisconsin.
They added that among the sickened persons for whom information is available, the dates of illness onset ranged from Dec. 25 to Jan. 15, and noted that the illnesses of people sickened after Jan. 27, if any, would not yet have come to the attention of health officials because the lag time between illness onset and reporting averages two to three weeks.
The CDC said that since 1996 there have been at least 30 foodborne illness outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts, most often from Salmonella and E. coli contamination. An E. Coli outbreak associated with uncooked sprouts from fenugreek seeds is believed to be responsible for 41 deaths and nearly 4,000 illnesses in Europe last year.
Jimmy John’s has been implicated in four other illness outbreaks associated with sprouts since 2008, government investigators and foodborne illness litigator William Marler of Seattle’s Marler Clark law firm indicated.
Jimmy John’s restaurants in Illinois, among other businesses, were linked by investigators to a late 2010 Salmonella illness outbreak from contaminated raw alfalfa and spicy sprouts that sickened at least 140 people in 26 states and the District of Columbia, the CDC said.
And sprouts served at two Jimmy John’s locations in two Colorado counties in 2008 were linked to an outbreak of 23 E. coli O157 illnesses in five counties associated with alfalfa sprouts, Marler wrote Wednesday, citing Boulder County Public Health reports.
The CDC and the Food & Drug Administration have for several years advised persons at high risk for complications, such as the elderly, young children and persons with compromised immune systems, not to eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with Salmonella and other bacteria that can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, infections in those groups.