Show me the data: Chipotle outbreak is caused by in restaurant vegetable processing?

I don’t know about that.

But that’s amateur epidemiologist (and president of Taylor Farms Florida) Leonard Batti’s working theory on the 39 cases of E. coli O26 outbreak linked to Chipotle (via The Packer).

Leonard Batti, president of Orlando-based Taylor Farms Florida, a division of the Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Fresh Foods Inc., said changes in the foodservice industry likely contributed to the Chipotle outbreak.iWKad22

“It’s a classic example of what’s happening in foodservice today,” he said. “They made a decision a little less than a year ago to move away from fresh-cut and start cutting products in their facilities, somewhere around 1,700 restaurants.

“So basically, almost overnight, we had 1,700 new vegetable processors pop-up around the country. We’ve all been in fast-food restaurants. You never question their focus on food safety. I am not really surprised that we have what’s transpired with Chipotle.”

Uh, what? It sure seems like a supplier issue, not an on-site processing issue. But I’d like to see the data first.

‘Sprouts aren’t necessary for Jimmy John’s to rock;’ chain permanently pulls sprouts from menu?

Kirksville, Missouri, is home of Truman State University where Amy completed her undergraduate degree with bad 1980s hair and clothing (even though it was the 1990s), and where we trekked in March 2010 so French scholar Dr. Hubbell could give an invited seminar to her peers and reminisce.

Kirksville seems like a typical Midwest college town, which means the students probably like their Jimmy John’s sandwiches.

Jason Hunsicker of the Kirksville Daily Express reports that Jimmy John’s is making a permanent menu change to put an end to the restaurant’s connection to E. coli outbreaks from raw clover sprouts.

Will Aubuchon, owner and general manager of the Kirksville Jimmy John’s, said an email was sent by "Jimmy himself" late Thursday night ordering all franchise locations to permanently remove raw clover sprouts from their menus.

It’s unclear whether the move applies to all raw sprouts or just clover (and the previously banned alfalfa) sprouts.

The move was made in the wake of an E. coli O26 outbreak that has sickened 12 people in five states, including Missouri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a release stating an investigation into the outbreak determined the individuals were likely infected from raw clover sprouts they consumed at Jimmy John’s restaurants.

The outbreak was not tied to the Kirksville restaurant and is not a direct result of conditions at any Jimmy John’s restaurants, but instead problems with the company’s supplier of the raw clover sprouts.

"Jimmy decided he was tired of the negative press from it and he thinks sprouts aren’t necessary for Jimmy John’s to rock," Aubuchon said.

Aubuchon said he’s been working with Jimmy John’s for 12 years and it is "kind of weird" to not have sprouts on the menu. He said regular Kirksville customers who ordered sprouts had read recent news reports and temporarily stopped adding the item to their sandwiches.

Now, however, the move will be permanent. Aubuchon expects some customers to be upset, but said he will encourage them to try alternative options like cucumbers. He also anticipates Jimmy John’s will work to add a new vegetable offering to its menus.

Jimmy John’s spokeswoman Mary Trader said on Thursday that the company is not releasing a statement at this time.

With five sprout-related outbreaks since 2008 at Jimmy John’s alone, they should be better at this public relations thing. A table of sprout-related outbreaks is available at

And if sprouts are gone from JJ’s menus, Jimmy may want to think about microbial food safety in general, those deli meats, lettuce and tomatoes. There have been lots of outbreaks and lots of sick people. Maybe this time it won’t have to happen in a Jimmy John’s outlet for the company to reassess what should be on the menu and what is required of suppliers to do business with Jimmy John’s.

Lidl breaks contract with supplier of ground beef in France after E. coli outbreak

Kroger, you may want to revisit Cargill as a supplier of ground turkey after the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak which has now sickened 107 including one death.

German-owned French retailer Lidl has just terminated a 20-year relationship with its primary hamburger supplier, SEB, after those burgers were implicated in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the Lille region of France earlier this year.

Are all Jimmy John’s ingredients made this way?

Alfalfa sprouts grown in Illinois have sickened at least 112 people in 18 states with salmonella since Nov. 2010, and many of those sick ate the sprouts on Jimmy John’s sandwiches.

On Jan. 3, 2011, in a separate outbreak, health officials fingered clover sprouts produced by Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Wash. as the source of a separate salmonella outbreak that has sickened three in Oregon and four in Washington. Once again, the vehicle in at least some of the illnesses was Jimmy John’s sandwiches with sprouts.

In mid-Jan. 2011, John Liautaud, the owner of the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop chain, said his restaurants will be replacing alfalfa sprouts with allegedly easier-cleaned clover sprouts, effective immediately.

Mr. Liautaud, perhaps you should inspect your suppliers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration did that at the Sprouter’s Northwest facility and found:

• failure to take necessary precautions to protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces with microorganisms and foreign substances;
• failure to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food;
• failure to clean non-food-contact surfaces of equipment as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination;
• effective measures not being taken to protect against contamination of food on the premises by pests;
• failure to properly store equipment, remove litter and waste, and cut weeds or grass that may constitute an attractant, breeding place or harborage area for pests, within the immediate vicinity of the plant, building, or structures;
• failure to maintain buildings, fixtures, or other physical structures in a sanitary condition;
• failure to hold raw materials in bulk or suitable containers so as to protect against contamination; and,
• failure to maintain buildings and physical facilities in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated.

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

Burger King chicken tenders removed from menu, failure to meet safety specs

Burger King’s crown shaped chicken tenders were pulled from many of its restaurants nationwide after the fast food giant decided the quality of the product was too poor to serve.

The company was quoted as saying,

"Food safety at Burger King restaurants is non-negotiable. (Burger King) was notified by one of its suppliers that the chicken tenders product produced between May 10-20, 2010 may not meet the company’s stringent food safety specifications."

No customers have been sickened.

Surplus groceries sold at auctions

Half-price cream cheese? And the brand name, no less! I saw they were getting close to their expiration dates, but I bought three, anyway. They’ll keep just fine in the freezer until I’m ready to bake another pumpkin cheesecake.

Lots of shoppers buy groceries with this money-saving mentality, which has opened the market for expired food sold at discounts. It has also sparked an increase in grocery auctions for the sale of damaged, dented or surplus foodstuffs that are often close to passing their expiration dates.

At Big Harry’s Auction in New Jersey, regular runs to regional food distribution centers and a wholesale food auction provide an ever-changing variety of food items for the public to bid on.

"And while Big Harry’s is subject to health department inspections and offers a money-back guarantee on food purchases," writes an Asbury Park Press staff writer, "buying frozen food at auction requires something of a leap of faith. [Auction operator Vince] Iacono says he’d never sell perishable frozen food that was thawed and then refrozen, which can cause spoilage, but all he can do is trust that his haulers will abide by the same policy."

That’s true for all food businesses: they have to rely on everyone before them in the farm-to-fork food chain to handle products as safely as they do. It’s always important to know your suppliers.