(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 26) Frequent recalls and concerns about the safety of sprouts have prompted Jason’s Deli to drop them from its menu nationwide for the remainder of 2012.
The change, already in place in some markets, will take full effect sometime in April. Beaumont, Texas-based Jason’s Deli has more than 230 restaurants in 28 states.
It is replacing sprouts with organic spinach and field greens.
“We’ve lost confidence in sprouts,” said Daniel Helfman, Jason’s Deli director of public relations. “We’re all about food safety and the health and wellness of our customers. Bottom line, when you look at what’s occurred with sprouts just in the last year or so, the recalls and warnings, it’s enough that we feel we have to walk away for all of 2012 and maybe 2013.”
“It’s certainly not good news for us,” said Bob Sanderson, president of the International Sprout Growers Association. “A recall is almost the equivalent of an outbreak in the public consciousness. That’s unfortunate.
“Finding a pathogen in a product is a very serious thing, but were people sick? It would be useful if (testing agencies) provided microbial counts.”
There have been 24 recalls of sprouts since 2007, mostly for salmonella and listeria found in random samples, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
From 2008-10, eight outbreaks and 509 illnesses were reported to the FDA. Data is subject to various limits; for one, FDA tracks only commodities marketed interstate, FDA policy analyst Sebastian Cianci said.
Jason’s Deli has already implemented its change in Texas and New Mexico. Sprouts were pulled from menus there initially in response to a December voluntary recall of 6,723 cases of alfalfa and onion sprouts by Dallas-based Green Valley Food Corp.
“Those weren’t our lot numbers, but we pulled them as a precautionary measure as we have before,” Helfman said.
Taking sprouts off the menu had been under discussion for some time.
“This was an ongoing conversation,” he said. “We talked about this as a possibility in 2011 but decided then that it was premature and we were overreacting. But more cases kept bringing up the issue and enough is enough. Can you name one other ingredient out there where we’ve had so many issues?”
Comments from other foodservice operators suggest contrasting views on sprouts’ viability.
“We took them off the menu at Sweet Tomatoes eight to 10 years ago just because of the well-documented food-safety risk of serving sprouts,” said Tracy Marks, spokeswoman for San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. “We always want to have an abundance of caution for our guests.”