Feb. 26, 2020 — The FDA and the CDC have accused sandwich chain Jimmy John’s of using “adulterated fresh produce” that may have been contaminated with E. coli or salmonella.
In a warning letter sent this month, William Weissinger, program division director of the FDA’s Office of Human and Animal Foods, told Jimmy John’s president James North that the company had 15 working days to respond and explain how the company will address the problem.
Weissinger wrote that they have evidence from five E. coli outbreaks dating to 2012 involving Jimmy John’s restaurants.
“The evidence demonstrates that your corporation, through your franchised Jimmy John’s restaurants, engaged in a pattern of receiving and offering for sale adulterated fresh produce, specifically clover sprouts and cucumbers,” Weissinger wrote.
Efforts to reach Jimmy John’s officials were not immediately successful. North told CNN this week that the chain has removed sprouts from all its locations.
“Food safety is our top priority,” he said. “This removal was out of an abundance of caution and was not initiated by any known, immediate threat.”
The latest outbreak was from November to December 2019 in Iowa, where 22 people were infected with E. coli. Twenty of them were interviewed, and each said they ate at one or more of 15 Jimmy John’s locations. The other outbreaks were:
- In February 2018, 10 people became ill from salmonella in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Eight of them ate at Jimmy John’s locations in Illinois and Wisconsin.
- In August 2014, 19 people were infected with E. coli in Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Utah, California, and Washington. The CDC found that 13 of them ate raw clover sprouts the week before becoming sick. An FDA investigation tied several of them to Jimmy John’s restaurants.
- Eight people in October 2013 in Colorado were infected with E. coli, and each said they recently ate at a Jimmy John’s. Each sandwich had raw cucumbers.
- Finally, in April 2012, 29 people from 11 states were infected with E. coli, and of 27 people interviewed, 85% said they ate sprouts from Jimmy John’s.
Jimmy John’s decision to destroy the sprouts is not enough. “Neither you nor your parent company [Atlanta-based Inspire Brands] proposed any corrective actions to prevent these, or other Jimmy John’s restaurants, from receiving adulterated produce, specifically sprouts,” Weissinger wrote.
Many of the outbreaks appear to tie the infected clover to a common Jimmy John’s supplier. But the FDA redacted references to the supplier’s name in its letter.
E. coli infections can cause diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults recover within a week, some people — typically young children and seniors — can have kidney failure. This condition can lead to serious kidney damage and death. Salmonella can cause serious, sometimes fatal, infections, especially in young children, seniors, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people may have short-term symptoms such as severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, belly discomfort, and vomiting.