An E. coli O121 outbreak in May of 2014 was linked to clover sprouts served at several Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches locations, the Pita Pit, and Daanen’s Deli. All of the people sickened in the outbreak started getting sick from May 1, 2014, to May 20, 2014. This means the tainted sprouts were eaten in late April through the middle of May.

People were sickened in 6 states: California (1), Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (11). We have been contacted by someone from Iowa and are investigating whether this case is part of the O121 outbreak.

The investigation started with interviews of 16 people sickened in the outbreak. Of those, 13 reported eating raw sprouts in the week before they started getting sick with E. coli symptoms.  Health officials in Washington and Idaho noted that case patients reported eating sprouts in sandwiches at several local food establishments, including several Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches locations, the Pita Pit, and Daanen’s Deli. This was statistical evidence pointing to clover sprouts as the source of the illness.

The next step in the investigation was tracing back the sprouts, looking at the suppliers, processors and growers of sprouts served at the restaurants.  The common denominator was Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho, and health officials determined that clover sprouts grown by the company were the likely source of the outbreak:

As part of the investigation, FDA performed a traceback analysis and determined that Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, in the timeframe prior to the outbreak, supplied sprouts to seven restaurants where 9 people who became ill during the outbreak reported eating before they became ill.  Eight of the people who became ill recalled eating sprouts.

When the FDA made the connection to Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, the agency conducted an inspection of the Evergreen Fresh Sprouts facility on May 22-23, 2014; May 27-30, 2014; and June 6, 2014. The inspection yielded a list of unsanitary conditions found at the facility:

  • condensate and irrigation water dripping from rusty valves;
  • a rusty and corroded watering system in the mung bean room;
  • tennis rackets (used to scoop mung bean sprouts) that had scratches, chips, and frayed plastic;
  • a pitchfork (used to transfer mung bean sprouts) that had corroded metal; and
  • a squeegee (used to agitate mung bean sprouts inside a soak vat) that had visible corroded metal and non-treated wood.

On June 27, over a month after the outbreak began, the FDA reported that Evergreen Fresh Sprouts had told the agency that it had continued to grow and sell clover sprouts from the same seed lot that was associated with the outbreak. That report stated that on June 26, 2014, the FDA and CDC held a meeting with the owner of Evergreen Fresh Sprouts to advise the firm of FDA’s concerns that the seed lot used to grow clover sprouts linked to this outbreak may be contaminated with E. coli O121 and should not be used to grow sprouts for people to eat. As of July 1, 2014, Evergreen Fresh Sprouts no longer had the seed lot associated with the outbreak and had received a new clover seed lot for sprouting purposes, according to the FDA.