For additional details, please see "Idaho grower's sprouts suspected in E. coli outbreak"
While state health officials and an Idaho sprout grower waited for test results from the Food and Drug Administration, a woman who believes her E. coli infection was caused by sprouts on a Jimmy John’s sandwich filed a civil suit against the grower and restaurant.
Initial reports from FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked as many as 10 E. coli cases in early May to clover sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC, Moyie, Idaho. Both agencies posted consumer alerts on May 22, following similar warnings from the Washington state and Idaho health departments.
The FDA’s policies prevent agency staff from discussing ongoing investigations, but Evergreen owner David Scharf said May 29 that investigators had been at his growing operation on a daily basis for more than a week, taking swab samples and watching operations.
Scharf said he will not issue a recall until the government provides him with test results that show his operation has an E. coli 0121 problem. He was not aware of the lawsuit naming his company and Jimmy John’s restaurant as defendants.
Officials at Jimmy John’s did not respond to calls for comment. Nine of the 10 sick people reported eating sprouts on sandwiches from three restaurant chains, including Jimmy John’s. Five of the sick people were hospitalized.
Staff at the Washington and Idaho health departments said no new cases of E. coli 0121 had been reported as of May 28. According to a spokeswoman at the Washington state department, the FDA said it could take another week for test results on finished product samples and from the Evergreen growing operation.
Scharf said he tests and holds his sprouts for E. coli 0157, as well as testing his spent water and work surfaces.
In the lawsuit, 33-year-old Idaho resident Honey Sayler’s lawyer states both Scharf and Jimmy John’s have been linked to sprout-borne illness outbreaks in the past.
A 2011 salmonella outbreak was linked to Evergreen, but FDA tests did not show contamination at the growing operation. At that time the company was owned by Scharf’s mother, who refused to recall her product.
Five foodborne illness outbreaks linked to sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurants are documented, according to the lawsuit, including two outbreaks in 2010 and one outbreak in each of 2008, 2009 and 2012.