Jimmy John’s, the Champagne, Ill.-based franchised sandwich fast-food restaurant chain owned by Inspire Brands, has removed sprouts from the menu at all of its 2,800-plus restaurants following a February 21, 2020 warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linking several E. coli outbreaks to the popular sandwich chain.
On February 26, 2020, CDC released a food safety alert after 14 people from five states reported falling ill after eating clover sprouts from the restaurant.
In FDA’s warning letter, delivered to company president James North, the agency accused the brand of engaging in a pattern of receiving and selling adulterated fresh produce, specifically clover sprouts and cucumbers. “Jimmy John’s restaurants have been implicated in multiple outbreaks that have spanned the past seven years and impacted consumers in no fewer than 17 states,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, in a prepared statement. “Jimmy John’s has not demonstrated implementation of long-term sustainable corrections to its supply chain to assure the safety of ingredients used in its products.” In addition to the latest outbreak, there have been five outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella over the past seven years at certain Jimmy John’s restaurants.
The FDA asked the company to respond within 15 days of the warning letter and document steps it plans to take to prevent the receipt and sale of adulterated food at each of its restaurants.
Additionally, FDA sent a warning letter to Marion, Iowa-based Sprouts Unlimited Wholesale Foods about a supply of sprouts the company delivered to Jimmy John’s that were linked to the most recent E. coli outbreak late last year. FDA noted that sprouts sold at Jimmy John’s located in the state of Iowa infected 22 people with E. coli during November and December 2019.
The Iowa Department of Public Health revealed that all those infected had eaten at one or more of 15 Jimmy John’s restaurants.
Of the four other outbreaks linked to Jimmy John’s over the past eight years, the most serious was an E. coli outbreak that infected 29 people from 11 states in 2012. FDA noted that 23 of those ate sprouts at one of six Jimmy John’s restaurants in the week prior to their illness.
A year later, eight people from Colorado were infected with E. coli. In that case, health officials confirmed each of the consumers had eaten a sandwich with raw cucumbers at one of three Jimmy John’s locations in the Denver area.
In 2014, 19 people were infected from another E. coli outbreak in the states of Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Utah, California, and Washington. According to FDA, most of these consumers reported eating raw clover sprouts in the week before getting sick and Jimmy Johns was identified as the most likely source in some cases.
A 2018 Salmonella outbreak infected 10 people. Eight of those who got sick reported eating raw sprouts on Jimmy John’s sandwiches in Illinois and Wisconsin, while one person reported eating sprouts bought from a Minnesota grocery store.
“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,” the FDA said.