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More Contaminated Sprouts Linked to Jimmy John's

By Mary Rothschild, Food Safety News

Jan 04, 2011

In another recall involving contaminated sprouts in Jimmy John's sandwiches, Oregon Public Health Division officials have warned consumers not to eat clover sprouts from a Washington supplier.

At least seven people, including four in Washington and three in Oregon, have been sickened with salmonellosis. Sprouters Northwest of Kent, WA, produced the sprouts identified as the source of the illnesses, according to Oregon health officials.

Sprouts, like bacteria, need warm, humid conditions to grow. They have been repeatedly identified as the cause of salmonellosis outbreaks, E. coli O157:H7 infections and other diseases, and have been responsible for at least 40 outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. in the past 20 years. Jimmy John's sandwiches have been associated with four sprout outbreaks in the last two years.

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the state of Illinois announced that at least 97 people had been infected with Salmonella from contaminated alfalfa sprouts linked to an Illinois organic farm, Tiny Greens, that supplied sprouts to the Jimmy John's sandwich restaurants in the Midwest.

But different sprouts from a different supplier, and a different strain of Salmonella, are responsible for the Pacific Northwest illnesses, said William E. Keene, senior epidemiologist at Oregon Public Health Division, in an email. "Just a coincidence that will keep happening as long as people keep eating this stuff, it would seem."

The recalled sprouts from Washington state include Clover, Clover & Onion, Spicy Sprouts and Deli Sprouts varieties--all with the Sprouters Northwest brand name. They were sold in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, and possibly other states, as well as in British Columbia. They are sold in retail stores in 4-ounce and 5-ounce plastic containers, and in larger 1-pound bags and 2-pound trays to grocery stores and wholesale suppliers, which in turn supply the sprouts to restaurants and other outlets.

"This is at least the 13th sprout-caused outbreak that has sickened Oregonians since 1995, when we first started warning consumers about the risks of eating sprouts," Keene said in a news release. Four of those outbreaks have involved Sprouters Northwest.

In this latest outbreak in Oregon, a Bend resident infected with Salmonella told her local health department she had eaten sprouts at a newly opened Jimmy John's outlet. Then, after a 3-year-old boy in Bend also got sick, his parents said he had eaten a Jimmy John's sandwich. The Deschutes County health authorities, mindful of the Midwest outbreak, alerted the state health department.

"It was the coincidence of the first case reporting that exposure that got the local health department interested in following up more than usual and that led them to involve our office in the inquiry," Keene said. Oregon contacted the FDA and Washington state, which found four more cases of Salmonella Newport associated with Sprouters Northwest clover sprouts. On Monday, shortly after the recall was announced, a woman in Multnomah County, Oregon, was also confirmed as being infected with the outbreak strain.

Sprouters Northwest immediately recalled its clover sprouts once it heard about the outbreak, according to Keene. "They have been cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation," he said.

State and federal agencies are working with Sprouters Northwest to remove potentially contaminated sprouts from distribution and to identify the source of the problem--which regulators say usually is contaminated seed. The company has suspended production while the investigation is underway.

Retailers and wholesalers that have any of the recalled sprouts should segregate them from other produce, Keene said. They can contact their distributor or Sprouters Northwest at 253-872-0577 for additional information.

Restaurant and deli operators should check their stock to identify and pull any of the recalled products, Keene advised. Consumers who have any of the recalled products should discard them.

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