Clover Sprout E. Coli Outbreak Has Sickened 10 People: CDC

Government health officials are warning people not to eat certain brands of clover sprouts, after at least 10 people may have been sickened in 2 different states with E. coli O121 infections, which is a bacteria known to cause severe disease and sometimes kidney failure.  

The clover sprout E. coli food poisoning outbreak was announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 22, following the identification of at least three probable cases and seven confirmed cases of E. coli food poisoning, which has resulted in hospitalization for at least give people in Idaho and Washington states.

To date no deaths have been linked to the clover sprouts, but federal health officials are urging caution for consumers.

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In the initial stages of the CDC’s investigation, the agency interviewed nine out of to people who reportedly became ill, and they all reported that they had all eaten raw clover sprouts in sandwiches from several different local restaurants including Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, the Pita Pit, and Daanen’s Deli. The illness onset for the ten sickened patients ranges from May 1- 13, 2014.

After learning that 90% of sickened patients had eaten a known carrier of the E. coli O121 infection, the CDC, in collaboration with the FDA, Washington State Department of Health and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, performed a preliminary traceback investigation, determining the contaminated clover sprouts were produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho.

The investigation revealed Evergreen Fresh Sprouts is a supplier of raw clover sprouts to the local restaurant’s and fast food establishments where sickened patients had eaten shortly before being diagnosed.

The investigation is active and ongoing and more information will be released to the public as it becomes available, the CDC reports. Until the source of the outbreak is officially confirmed, the CDC is asking the public not to consume raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC.

At least one food poisoning lawsuit has already been filed against Evergreen Fresh Sprouts and Jimmy John’s in Kootenai County Court in Idaho. The plaintiff is a woman who was hospitalized after eating the sprouts at a Jimmy John’s located in Hayden, Idaho. She was hospitalized as a result.

People who may have consumed contaminated clover sprouts are encouraged to be aware for symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections, and abdominal pain lasting between 7 and 10 days. Consumers who experience symptoms should seek medical treatment as soon as possible as some types of E. coli O121 infections cause severe disease and sometimes result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a form of kidney failure.

With only 10 illnesses reported, the CDC believes more may follow because illnesses happening after April 30, 2014 may still not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when it is reported. This duration of time usually takes between 2-3 weeks.

In 2012, Jimmy John’s indicated that it was planning to remove all clover sprouts from its menu, due to repeated problems with food poisoning outbreaks associated with the item. The company has yet to follow through on that promise.

During a Jimmy John’s alfalfa sprout recall in April 2011, the FDA sent a warning letter to the restaurant chain regarding claims it was making about the health benefits associated with its sprouts. According to the FDA, the Rochester, Massachusetts-based company promoted many of its products as cancer-fighting agents and as being capable of lowering cholesterol.

Federal regulations limit the health benefit and nutrition claims that can be made about foods to those that have been authorized by regulation. To make such claims, the FDA told the company that its sprouts would have to qualify as a new drug and be treated accordingly.

This is at least the sixth food poisoning outbreak to affect sprouts sold on Jimmy John’s sandwiches since 2008.

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