October 17, 2017

Jimmy John’s Evergreen Sprouts E. coli Outbreak in 2014 Sickened 19

An E. coli O121 outbreak in 2014 linked to Evergreen raw clover sprouts that were served at Jimmy John’s, the Pita Pita, and Daanen’s Deli, sickened 19 people, according to government officials. Those people lived in six states. Forty four percent of patients were hospitalized; there was no recall; no one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome; and there were no deaths.

Alfalfa Sprouts CloseupThe outbreak case count by state was: California (1), Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (11). Thirteen of the sixteen people interviewed reported eating raw sprouts the week before they got sick. Traceback investigations concluded that contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts of Idaho was the likely source of this outbreak. After a meeting with the FDA, the company announced it is no longer using the seed lot linked to the illnesses. But for more than month after the outbreak began, Evergreen was selling clover sprouts from the seed lot associated with the outbreak.

 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time products from this company were involved in an outbreak. In 2011, 21 people were sickened with Salmonella bacteria, linked to Alfalfa and Spicy Sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.

Investigations and inspections by the FDA found quite a few violations at the Evergreen facility. Inspectors observed mold growth and dripping condensate on a water pipe in the sprout growing room. Condensate was seen dripping directly onto sprouting vats containing growing sprouts. A rusty and corroded mung bean room watering system was being used to water the mung beans. Employees used scratched and chipped tennis rackets to scoop mung bean sprouts from the harvester onto the belts that fed the sprouts into the product storage bins.

E. coli is a dangerous bacteria that can cause serious illness. Food processors must follow strict regulations to prevent contamination of food that they sell to the public.  Attorney Fred Pritzker, who represents people sickened by contaminated food, said, “These facilities that grow sprouts should be spotless. No used or damaged equipment should ever come into contact with such a vulnerable product. Nineteen people paid the price for these safety violations.”

The symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea, which is usually watery and/or bloody, and serious abdominal cramps. A mild fever may be present. Most people recover within a week, but some become so seriously ill they must be hospitalized.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious complication of this type of infection. Children under the age of 5 are most likely to develop this complication, which can lead to kidney failure and death.

The government recommends that people, especially those in high risk groups, avoid eating raw sprouts. The seeds that the sprouts are grown from can be contaminated, and the growing environment, which is moist and warm, are the perfect conditions for bacterial growth. Anyone with a compromised immune system or a chronic illness, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women should avoid raw sprouts.

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