Jimmy John’s Sprout Toll Now 14, And Rising

CDC reported today that the number of victims confirmed to be infected with E. coli O26 after consuming raw clover sprouts at Jimmy John’s restaurants has risen to 14 people in 6 states.

Michigan was the latest state to be added to the outbreak map, with two confirmed cases reported in early February. The Michigan Department of Community Health reports that an additional five cases are under investigation. All seven people consumed raw sprouts at sandwich shops in mid and southeast Michigan.

The Michigan confirmed and suspected victims range in age from 19 to 50 years old. Two of the seven were hospitalized. While the Michigan public health alert makes it clear that these cases of E. coli O26 are part of the 6-state Jimmy John’s outbreak, the department is warning Michigonians to avoid the consumption of raw clover sprouts, regardless of the source or venue, until more information about the source of the contamination is available. The Michigan Department of Agriculture is investigating.

As of today’s report, outbreak illnesses are confirmed in Iowa (5), Missouri (3), Kansas (2), Michigan (2), Arkansas (1) and Wisconsin (1). Outbreak victims range from 9 to 49 years old. All of the 14 confirmed victims are female. Illness onset dates range from December 25, 2011 to February 7, 2012. The onset dates for the seven Michigan cases (2 confirmed + 5 under investigation) range from February 6th to 12th.

E. coli O26 is a Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, and causes illness similar to that caused by infections with E. coli O157:H7. The most common symptoms are acute diarrhea (often bloody), and abdominal cramps. While young children and the elderly are susceptible to developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) as a result of an infection with a shiga-toxin producing E. coli, there have not yet been any reports of HUS in this outbreak.

FDA has been conducting a traceback investigation, and reported the following updated information today:

  • The traceback investigation involving iceberg lettuce found no common source to link that commodity to the ongoing outbreak.
  • FDA has determined that the common seed lot identified (lot SCCTSX) was distributed nationwide.
  • On February 10, the seed supplier of the common seed lot identified agreed to notify its customers to remove the lot in question from distribution. On February 13, the supplier informed FDA that notification of all customers was complete and that instructions had been given to return any of the seed lot in question to the supplier.
  • FDA continues to monitor the removal of the seed lot in question from the supply chain.
  • Sprouts have a short shelf life (2-3 weeks). It is unlikely that sprouts produced from the seed lot in question are currently in the marketplace.

Jimmy Johns announced on February 17th that it has permanently removed raw clover sprouts from its menu.


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.