Jimmy John’s Named In Lawsuit Over Tainted Sprouts

Sandwich restaurant chain, Jimmy John’s, has been named in a lawsuit filed over tainted sprouts. Jimmy John’s is the culprit in a number of multi-state food borne illness outbreaks linked to tainted sprouts.

Heather Tuttle, 27, filed a lawsuit in Des Moines and seeks damages for her medical expenses and pain and suffering after falling ill with E. coli poisoning and alleges that her illness was the result of consuming a Jimmy John’s turkey sandwich with sprouts she purchased from the chain’s West Des Moines store on January 3, said The Associated Press (AP). Tuttle’s is believed to be the first lawsuit over the outbreak.

The lawsuit also alleges that the most recent outbreak is the fifth involving either the E. coli or Salmonella pathogens since 2008 that has been linked to sprouts served at Jimmy John’s, said the AP. More than 400 customers nationwide have fallen ill in these outbreaks, added the AP. The lawsuit also seeks to hold the chain liable for its selling “unreasonably dangerous” food as well as negligence in its failure to comply with health and safety laws, said the AP.

Tuttle said she needed a series of medical treatments and suffered from excruciating cramps and diarrhea. Tuttle is one of 12 people—all female—in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin whose E. coli poisoning was linked to the consumption of raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s, said the AP. Sicknesses were reported from December 25 through January 15; two people required hospitalization.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that an initial probe identified a common lot of clover seeds used to grow the tainted sprouts and that the seed supplier warned sprouting facilities to stop using the tainted seeds, said the AP. Meanwhile, owners of Jimmy John’s franchises advised Food Safety News that they were informed that the company is removing sprouts from its menu, said the AP, which noted that the company would not comment on the matter.

We have written that this outbreak followed another sprout outbreak last year involving raw alfalfa sprouts from one of Jimmy John’s suppliers and which caused 140 Salmonella poisoning illnesses. Sprouts from Jimmy John’s suppliers were also linked to a 2009 Salmonella poisoning outbreak that impacted several Midwestern states and were suspected in a 2008 E. coli poisoning outbreak in Boulder, Colorado. Following last year’s Salmonella poisoning outbreak, Jimmy John’s, announced it would switch from alfalfa to clover sprouts, saying that clover sprouts were easier to clean.

As we’ve long written, because sprouts are often eaten raw with no additional treatment, such as cooking, which eliminates bacteria, washing sprouts does not necessarily remove the bacteria that grows within the sprouts and cannot be washed away. Over the past 15 years, at least 30 outbreaks of food poisoning have been linked to eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We’ve also long explained that sprouts present a unique food poisoning challenge in that they can become tainted prior to harvesting, when growing. Also, conditions required for sprout growing are optimal for growing pathogens: Bacteria need the right temperature, nutrients, and water and sprouts grow in watery, warm environments, ideal for rapid bacterial growth.

Contamination with the Salmonella or E. coli pathogen can lead to serious consequences, necessitate hospitalization, and cause long-term problems and even death. Some strains have become drug resistant, which means that treatment options are minimized, treatment becomes significantly more difficult, and patients cannot always be brought back to their presickness state.

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