( Courtesy Jimmy John's )

Jimmy John’s has a pattern of receiving and selling “adulterated” sprouts and cucumbers, leading to repeated outbreaks of foodborne illness, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency sent the sandwich restaurant company, Jimmy John’s Franchise LLC, Champaign, Ill., a warning letter that detailed five outbreaks linked to Jimmy John’s restaurants. The letter is addressed to Jimmy John’s President James North.

According to media reports, the sandwich chain has taken sprouts off its menu, a temporary move it made following a 2012 outbreak.

The FDA also posted a warning letter to Jimmy John’s supplier Sprouts Unlimited Inc., Marion, Iowa. According to the letter, addressed to Sprout Unlimited President William Beach, the FDA found “numerous serious violations” of regulations during an inspection of its growing facility from Dec. 31-Jan. 9. The FDA was at the facility because it was identified as a clover sprouts supplier to Jimmy Johns, whose products are linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 22 people in Iowa from Nov. 21 to Dec. 14, according to the FDA letter.

The outbreaks linked Jimmy John’s franchises, according to the FDA warning letter, are:

  • E. coli, November-December 2019: Twenty-two patients reported eating at one or more of 15 Jimmy John’s locations in Iowa;
  • Salmonella Montevideo, early 2018: 10 people in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin were sick and most reported eating at Jimmy John’s before becoming ill;
  • E. coli, 2014: 19 people became infected in Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Utah, California and Washington, with clover sprouts as the common factor;
  • E. coli, 2013: 8 patients in Colorado reported eating products with raw cucumbers as an ingredient from Denver-area Jimmy John’s locations; and
  • E. coli, 2012: 29 people in 11 states became sick, and the FDA found a single lot of seed grown and distributed by multiple sprout companies that supplied six Jimmy John’s outlets implicated in the outbreak.

Taken together, according to the FDA warning letter to Jimmy John’s, the outbreaks demonstrate “the supplier control mechanisms you have in place for receiving fresh produce are inadequate.”

The letter does not refer to a possible foodborne illness outbreak at a Jimmy John’s in St. Louis that was reportedly closed by the City of St. Louis Department of Health Jan. 25; it has since re-opened.

An FDA spokesperson said the agency typically is involved in multi-state outbreaks, and referred questions to the City of St. Louis Department of Health. The Packer contacted the health department Feb. 25, but has not heard back.

The FDA’s release on the warning letter was from Feb. 21; Jimmy John’s has 15 days after receiving the letter to respond.

Jimmy John’s parent company Inspire Brands decided to destroy all sprouts on hand in all of the Jimmy John’s restaurants in the recent outbreak, and implement an additional cleaning and sanitation at all Iowa restaurants, according to the FDA letter. The FDA is asking for plans the restaurant chain has for all 2,800 restaurants to prevent the “receipt and sale of adulterated foods.”

"It is your responsibility to ensure your firm complies with all requirements of federal law and implementing regulations,” according to the letter. “You should take prompt action to correct all violations noted in this letter.  Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in enforcement action by FDA without further notice, including seizure and/or injunction.”

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CDC gives salmonella outbreak details as Jimmy John’s pulls sprouts

UPDATED: Jimmy John’s brings back sprouts