Jimmy Johns + Sprouts = E. coli O26 Outbreak

Raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy Johns restaurants are to blame for an outbreak of E. coli O26 – a shiga-toxin producing strain of E. coli – that has sickened at least 12 people in 5 states, according to a report released today by CDC. The illnesses developed between December 25, 2011 to January 15, 2012.

The outbreak-related illnesses were confirmed in Iowa (5), Missouri (3), Kansas (2), Arkansas (1), and Wisconsin (1). Two people were hospitalized.

Ten of the 12 outbreak victims reported having eaten at a total of 9 different Jimmy Johns restaurant locations in the week before becoming ill. Eight of the 10 said that they had consumed a sandwich containing raw sprouts; 9 reported eating a sandwich that contained lettuce. FDA has been conducting traceback investigations, with the following preliminary result:

FDA’s traceback investigation is ongoing. Preliminary traceback information has identified a common lot of clover seeds used to grow clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurant locations where ill persons ate. FDA and states conducted a traceback that identified two separate sprouting facilities; both used the same lot of seed to grow clover sprouts served at these Jimmy John’s restaurant locations. Preliminary distribution information indicates that sprouts grown from this seed lot were sold at a number of restaurant and grocery store locations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin, and were likely distributed beyond these states. On February 10, 2012, the seed supplier initiated notification of sprouting facilities that received this lot of clover seed to stop using it. Investigations are ongoing to identify other locations that may have sold clover sprouts grown from this seed lot.

This is the third outbreak in five years that has been traced to raw sprouts consumed at Jimmy Johns restaurants. In 2008, twenty-one University of Colorado students fell ill after eating items containing raw alfalfa sprouts at two Jimmy Johns locations; 14 of the 21 students were confirmed to have been infected with E. coli O157:NM. And in 2010/2011, a 26-state (plus the District of Columbia) Salmonella outbreak was traced to contaminated Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts served at Jimmy Johns restaurant outlets. That outbreak sickened 140 people, and sent almost one in four of the victims to hospital.

A single lot of clover seeds appears to have been the source of the contaminated sprouts, based on FDA’s traceback investigation. The agency has not yet determined where – other than Jimmy Johns – the clover sprouts grown from these seeds were distributed. While CDC has not issued specific recommendations, I urge eFoodAlert readers to avoid all clover sprouts – including those grown at home.

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