Seek and ye shall find salmonella in sprouts

I don’t know why Jimmy John’s continues to serve raw sprouts on its sandwiches, continues to make people sick, and continues to get sued.

The Oregon Department of Human Services reported yesterday that clover sprouts produced by Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Wash. have been fingered as the source of a separate salmonella outbreak that has sickened three in Oregon and four in Washington. Reported illnesses began between Dec. 4 and Dec. 17. No hospitalizations or deaths have been reported.

The Oregonian reports the Northwest sprout outbreak dates to Dec. 4 when a woman in Bend was sickened by salmonella. In a routine food survey, she told Deschutes County health authorities she had eaten sprouts from Jimmy John’s.

In the past two years, the sandwich chain has been linked to four sprout outbreaks, including one at the end of 2010. Nearly 100 people were sickened by alfalfa sprouts sold by Jimmy John’s in the Midwest.

But the Jimmy John’s store in Bend only uses clover sprouts from Sprouters Northwest, and that company was not implicated in the Midwest outbreak.

Initially, the woman appeared to be a solitary case. Then on Dec. 17, a 3-year-old boy in Bend got sick after munching on a sandwich from Jimmy John’s.

That prompted William E. Keene, a senior epidemiologist at Oregon Public Health Division and his colleagues to whirl into action. They contacted the FDA and Washington state authorities, which in turn found four more cases linked to Sprouters Northwest clover sprouts.

Then on Monday, Keene learned that a woman in Multnomah County had been sickened, hours after the recall was announced.

Keene was quoted as saying, “This is at least the 13th sprout-caused outbreak that has sickened Oregonians since 1995, when we first started warning consumers about the risks of eating sprouts. Anyone concerned about foodborne disease should consider this before eating sprouts.”

This is the fourth time since 1997 that Sprouters Northwest sprouts have been cited as a source of salmonella contamination, Keene said.

Sprouters Northwest owner Bill Jones said Monday the brand is widely sold in major retail chains, including Albertsons and Safeway.

So I’m sure Albertson’s and Safeway will be forthcoming with the food safety audit reports of Sprouters Northwest as a supplier, to convince consumers that food safety is job one.

Said Keene, "This is a food to avoid. If you’re concerned about getting sick, I wouldn’t eat sprouts."

The original table of North American raw sprout-related outbreaks is available at: