On Feb. 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli 026 infections in five states linked to raw clover sprouts sold at Jimmy John's sandwich restaurants.
According to the CDC, 12 people were infected between Dec. 25, 2011, and Jan. 15, 2012. Five people were from Iowa, three from Missouri, two from Kansas and one each came from Arkansas and Wisconsin. Two of the 12 patients were hospitalized.
The CDC investigation revealed that 10 of the people (out of 11 they could interview) reported eating a sandwich at a Jimmy John's restaurant in the week preceding their illness. Eight of those people reported eating sandwiches that contained raw clover sprouts, which the CDC says "is the likely cause of this outbreak." Further investigation is currently being conducted.
One of the 12 patients treated for this E. coli outbreak, 27-year-old Heather Tuttle of Iowa, filed a lawsuit this week seeking repayment of medical costs and damages for pain and suffering.
The restaurant chain has not responded publicly to the CDC investigation or to Tuttle's lawsuit. On their Facebook page, however, the company responded to a commenter by saying "Supplies were inconsistent, JJ only serves the best!"
According to Food Safety News, Jimmy John's switched to using clover sprouts in Jan. 2011 after more than 100 people in 18 states contracted Salmonella linked to alfalfa sprouts sold in the chain's sandwiches. At the time, chain founder Jimmy John Liautaud said clover sprout seeds are smoother and therefore easier to clean.
According to the CDC, sources of E. coli infections previously associated with sprouts include contaminated water, improperly composted manure fertilizer, feces from domestic or wild animals, or improperly cleaned processing equipment. The agency also cautions that the same conditions that are best suited for seed sprouting also permit the growth and spread of bacteria.
Although the corporate office did not comment on this current E. coli outbreak, stores in the Philadelphia area announced they have stopped using sprouts. "Our national supply had become inconsistent and therefore we've decided to pull them from the menu," Alex Moser, Jimmy John's area manager in Philadelphia, told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The Jimmy John's chain was previously linked to an E. coli outbreak in Colorado in 2008.