December 8, 2019

Denver Jimmy Johns E. coli Outbreak Under FDA Microscope

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is at the center of a government investigation of an outbreak of E. coli infections in the Denver area associated with sandwich food from Jimmy John’s restaurants. The FDA’s involvement in tracing the origins of the outbreak has to do with the agency’s food safety mandate over fresh produce. Alicia Cronquist, an epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, has said the leading hypothesis over what made people sick revolves around a batch of contaminated fresh produce of some kind.

Dave Steigman, an FDA spokesman, told The Packer, a respected industry trade publication, that field investigators hope to know more about the source by the end of this week. The probe has centered on three Jimmy John’s sandwich locations in the Denver metro area, where at least eight people were confirmed as E. coli food poisoning patients early last month. The Jimmy John’s Denver area outbreak is believed to be over, but if any of the case patients developed kidney failure and a complication known as E. coli HUS, they could still be recovering from severe illness.

The FDA is mandated under federal law to¬†establish science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce on farms and in the supply chain to minimize contamination that could cause serious adverse health consequences or death. From¬†1996 to 2010, approximately 131 produce-related reported outbreaks occurred, resulting in 14,350 outbreak-related illnesses, 1,382 hospitalizations and 34 deaths, the FDA has said. These outbreaks were associated with approximately 20 different fresh produce commodities. “This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable,” the agency said.

According to FDA records obtained by E. coli lawyer Fred Pritzker and his Bad Bug Law Team, a 2010 food poisoning outbreak at the Jimmy John’s chain in Midwestern states was traced to Salmonella-tainted alfalfa sprouts from a certain manufacturer, Tiny Greens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also was heavily involved in the investigation, but it was the FDA, working with the Illinois Department of Public Health, that isolated the outbreak strain of Salmonella in one environmental water run-off sample at the Tiny Greens Organic Farm. The document said FDA collected both product and environmental samples in its investigation, which is consistent with a typical traceback investigation by the agency. The data it collects is broken down into digital genetic code. If the bacterial “fingerprints” taken from contaminated produce or the surrounding environment match the strain of bacteria that is making people sick, the outbreak is solved and courts determine liability and who is responsible for compensating victims.

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