A food poisoning lawsuit has been filed against the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain by an Iowa woman who says she was poisoned by tainted sprouts.
The complaint was filed yesterday by Heather Tuttle in Des Moines, who was one of 12 people sickened after eating clover sprouts served by the restaurants that were allegedly contaminated with E. coli.
This is at least the fifth food poisoning outbreak linked to Jimmy John’s sprouts since 2008, and on the same day Tuttle filed her lawsuit the company announced it was permanently removing clover sprouts from its menu.
According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation, at least 12 illnesses have been linked to a strain of E. coli 026 that contaminated raw clover sprout seeds. People were sickened in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin. Two people, including Tuttle, have been hospitalized, according to the CDC outbreak report.
Most of the illnesses occurred between late December and mid-January. Ten of the victims reported eating at Jimmy John’s and most remembered eating sandwiches with sprouts on them.
Tuttle’s lawsuit claims she was stricken by weeks of painful cramps and debilitating diarrhea. The complaint is believed to be the first filed against the company as a result of the sprout problems, but others are expected.
E. coli 026 infections can generally range from mild to severe, but this strain appeared to be more severe, causing bloody diarrhea, according to the CDC.
While most healthy adults recover from food poisoning caused by E. coli within a few weeks, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness. If the toxin enters the blood stream, E. coli could also lead to kidney failure known as Hemolytic-Urenia Syndrome (HUS).
Jimmy John Liautaud announced on the company’s Facebook wall that the 1,200-restaurant chain will remove clover sprouts from the menu because of quality-control problems among suppliers. Days before finally making that announcement, Liautaud tried to blame the government, suggesting that the CDC was attempting to bully him.
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.
Another sandwich chain, Ebert and Gerbert’s Sandwich Shops also announced last week that they were removing alfalfa sprouts from their menu due to the Jimmy John’s repeated food poisoning outbreaks in order to protect the health of their customers. The chain has not been implicated in any sprout-based food poisoning outbreaks.