September 21, 2020

E. coli O103 Jimmy John’s Clover Sprouts Outbreak Sickens 22 in Iowa

An E. coli O103 Jimmy John’s clover sprouts outbreak has sickened at least 22 people in Iowa, according to a warning letter the FDA sent to Jimmy John’s and Sprouts Unlimited on February 21, 2020. This outbreak was briefly mentioned by the FDA in a recall notice on December 18, 2019, but there were very few details about the outbreak at that time.

E. coli O103 Jimmy John's Clover Sprouts Outbreak Sickens 22 in Iowa

The FDA warning letter details information about five food poisoning outbreaks linked to Jimmy John’s restaurants going back to 2012. The outbreaks were caused by E. coli O103, Salmonella Montevideo, E. coli O102, E. coli O157:H7, and E. coli O26. The letter states that, “Taken together, these outbreaks, which spanned over the past seven years and impacted no fewer than seventeen states demonstrate the corporate-wide supplier control mechanisms you have in place for receiving fresh produce are inadequate.”

Those outbreaks sickened at least 88 people in those 17 states. Four of the outbreaks were linked to sprouts, and one, the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, to raw cucumbers.

The Current Outbreak

The current outbreak has sickened 22 people in Iowa as of January 7, 2020. Illness onset dates ranged from November 21 and December 14, 2019.

Twenty people sickened in this outbreak were interviewed by the Iowa Department of Public Health. All of them said they ate at one or more of 15 Jimmy John’s restaurants. Of those 20 people, 45% said they ate sprouts the week before they got sick. That is much higher than a survey of healthy people in which just 3% said they ate sprouts during the same time frame.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals found that those 15 restaurants received clover sprouts from an unnamed supplier during the “period of interest.” Samples of sprouts and sprouts irrigation water collected by the firm that supplied the sprouts to Jimmy John’s revealed a strain of E. coli O103 that was highly related to the outbreak strain by whole genome sequencing (WGS).

That unnamed supplier is allegedly Sprouts Unlimited of Marion, Iowa. We know that because the FDA also sent a warning letter to that company on February 21, 2020, stating that “sprouts grown at your operation were linked by the state of Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, Department of Public Health, and the (b)(4) to an outbreak of human infections with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O103 (E. coli O103) in the state of Iowa.  This outbreak sickened 22 people between November 21 and December 14, 2019.” In addition, the Iowa Department of Public Health posted a recall notice about the Sprouts Unlimited Product on their site that was updated an hour ago.

Attorney Fred Pritzker

You can contact food safety attorney Fred Pritzker, whose Minneapolis law firm has filed many lawsuits against Jimmy John’s restaurants, for help by calling 1-888-377-8900 or 612-338-0202.

After the outbreak was announced in December 2019, Jimmy John’s parent company, Inpsire Brands, destroyed all sprouts on hand in al of the Jimmy John’s returns in Iowa. But neither Jimmy John’s or their parent company proposed any corrective actions to prevent these, or any other Jimmy John’s restaurants, from receiving adulterated produce, specifically sprouts.

Jimmy John’s Responsibility and History of Outbreaks

Jimmy John’s has 2,800 franchise restaurants in 43 states. The FDA is asking the company to “describe and document steps you have or will take to prevent the receipt and sale of adulterated food at each of the approximately 2,800 Jimmy John’s restaurants.”

Jimmy John’s had a meeting with the FDA in May 2012, stating that they would only offer clover sprouts on their sandwiches, and to only source clover sprouts from (b)(4) suppliers. But since then, there have been three more sprout-related outbreaks, and Jimmy John’s is using multiple other sources of sprouts. Sprouts are a unique food poisoning risk.

In addition, the company has not provided the FDA with any information “demonstrating long-term, sustainable corrections have been implemented throughout your organization to prevent this violation from recurring in the future.”

The letter ends by stating, “You are responsible for investigating and determining the causes of the violations identified above and for preventing their recurrence or the occurrence of other violations.  It is your responsibility to ensure your firm complies with all requirements of federal law and implementing regulations.  You should take prompt action to correct all violations noted in this letter.  Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in enforcement action by FDA without further notice, including seizure and/or injunction.”

Symptoms of an E. coli O103 Infection

The symptoms of an E. coli O103 infection include a mild fever, severe and painful abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea that is bloody and watery. People usually start to get sick a few days to a week after eating food contaminated with this pathogen. In some populations, especially children under the age of 5, a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) may occur that is a type of kidney failure.

Symptoms of HUS include little urine output, easy bruising, lethargy, and pale skin. Anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms needs to see a doctor immediately. They may be part of this E. coli O103 Jimmy John’s clover sprouts outbreak in Iowa.

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