April 19, 2024

Revisiting Raw Sprouts: Why Are They Such a Health Risk?

The current Salmonella Montevideo outbreak at Jimmy John’s restaurants seems to be pinpointed on raw sprouts served on that chain’s sandwiches. Unfortunately, most people do not think of produce as being a risk for food poisoning. But that class of foods is most often associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.

Jimmy John's Raw Sprouts Outbreak

There have been many outbreaks in the past few years linked to fresh produce, including leafy greens, apples, raspberries, snow peas, cilantro, and yes, sprouts. In fact, sprouts are almost in a category by themselves.

The way this food is produced is part of the problem. To make sprouts, seeds are placed in a warm and moist environment, which happens to be the ideal medium for bacterial growth. Since 1998, fresh or lightly cooked sprouts have been linked to 49 food poisoning outbreaks in the United States. Those outbreaks have been caused by Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, and Salmonella.

In all of the outbreaks reported, researchers think the likely source of the pathogen was the contaminated seed. In fact, the bacteria may be inside the seed, which means there is no way to sanitize the seed before they are sprouted. Some processing methods, such as scarification, damage the surface of the seed and can create an entry point for bacteria.

Homegrown sprouts are no safer than commercially grown sprouts. Even when the sprouts are grown in sanitary conditions, if the bacteria is present in the seed, the bacteria will grow right along with the sprouts.

Jimmy John’s made the decision to pull raw sprouts from their restaurant menus in 2012. But they started selling sprouts again six months later.

In the current outbreak, eight people in five states are sick. The case count by state is: Illinois (2), Minnesota (1), and Wisconsin (5). All of those sickened at raw sprouts on sandwiches at Jimmy John’s restaurants in Wisconsin and Illinois the week before they got sick. The latest illness onset date was January 3, 2017. More people may be added to this case count as the investigation progresses.

So how can you protect yourself? It may be a good idea to avoid raw sprouts completely. Officials do recommend that anyone who is in a high risk group – the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with health problems – avoid this food completely. You can cook sprouts thoroughly, which will kill any bacteria that may be present. No produce rinse or any amount of cleaning will make them completely safe.

The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea that may be bloody. If you ate at a Jimmy John’s restaurant and have been experiencing those symptoms, call your doctor.

The experienced attorneys at Pritzker Hageman law firm help people sickened by food contaminated with Salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria get answers, compensation and justice. We protect our client’s legal rights. Our lawyers represent patients and families of children in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against grocery stores, food producers, shippers, dairies, restaurants, retailers, and schools. Attorney Fred Pritzker and his team recently won $7.5 million for young client whose kidneys failed after he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome because of an E. coli infection.

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