By: Kerry Bazany

Another fast food chain has been added to the unfortunate list of restaurants that have been besieged by foodborne pathogens. In Wisconsin, five people became ill with symptoms of a salmonella infection after eating raw sprouts that were on their sandwiches. Two people in Illinois became ill after stating that their illnesses came from eating at Jimmy John’s as well, also from the raw sprouts topping. State officials said that based upon a review of produce, suppliers, and items consumed, investigators believe the source of the illnesses are from consumption of raw sprouts from various Jimmy John’s locations throughout the state. These cases involve people who ate raw sprouts from Jimmy John’s restaurants from mid to late December. Jimmy John’s sprouts were previously linked to outbreaks of salmonella in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Jimmy John’s has now removed the addition of raw sprouts from all of its sandwiches in all of its 2,727 locations nationwide as a “precautionary measure.” In the past 24 hours, an investigation revealed that sprouts shipped from two growers in Minnesota could be linked to the foodborne illness reports. The names of the growers have not yet been released.

James North, CEO of Jimmy John’s, stated that the restaurant has been working with the Departments of Health in Illinois and Wisconsin to investigate the complaints, but in the meantime the chain has directed all franchisees to remove the sprouts from all supply and distribution. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) are both investigating in order to ascertain the source of the contamination.

Health Department services in both states strongly recommend that if you have symptoms to call your doctor as well as the local health department to report your illness. Symptoms of salmonella infection include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Possible bloody stool

Salmonella typically incubates from several hours to about two days, and diarrhea may persist for up to ten days. The diarrhea associated with a bout of salmonella infection can be particularly dehydrating, requiring prompt medical attention. Certain individuals, especially infants, young children, older adults, transplant recipients, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems, can be at risk for complications.

Sneaky Salmonella: How does it get Into Food?

Salmonella is a bacterium causes more hospitalizations and deaths each year than any other kind of germ that is found in food, and causes over one million illnesses each year. Contamination can occur virtually anywhere in the chain that brings our food from farm to table. The various causes of this type of foodborne illness originate from poor food safety practices in farms, factories, restaurants, and even in the home. The salmonella bacterium lives in the intestines of animals and is shed in their feces. If these feces come in contact with a food product or water, then that source becomes contaminated. This is also true of other foodborne pathogens as they travel along the same pathway to making people sick. Tainted ingredients can contaminate floors, storage bins, surfaces, and peoples’ hands. Utensils used in food preparation can be tainted and when used, can contaminate other foods as well. That’s why it’s so important to practice food safety when handling food in the home. As for the aforementioned raw sprouts that have sickened patrons of Jimmy John’s, raw sprouts thrive in a warm environment: perfect conditions for the growth of bacteria.

Why the Rise in Salmonella Cases?

Food safety experts say the apparent uptick in salmonella outbreaks tied to produce reflects two opposing forces in American society: consumers’ desire to eat more healthful foods and the agricultural community’s distaste for costly regulations. For years, Americans have been told that they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and there is some evidence that they are heeding that advice. Those who are consuming more fruits and vegetables frequently eat the produce raw to take full advantage of the food’s nutritional qualities. (Source: As a society, we are eating far more raw produce than just a few years ago.

From 2006 to the present, the majority of salmonella related outbreaks have been linked to produce. The outbreaks have been linked to twenty different fresh produce commodities. A recent papaya-related outbreak infected 47 people in twelve states.

It goes without saying that most of us desire to eat healthier, which of course includes plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. However, Dr. Chris Braden, director of the CDC’s division of food borne, water borne, and environmental diseases states that the benefits of eating raw fruits and vegetables far outweigh the possibility of contracting a food borne illness.

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

To help eliminate the possibility of contracting any food borne illness, the FDA recommends the following precautions:

  • Buy produce that is not bruised or damaged
  • If you buy pre-cut produce (pineapple chunks, bagged salad greens, etc.) select those that are refrigerated or on ice
  • Store perishable fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below
  • If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use
  • Make sure to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and the preparation of produce
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas on fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking. (Note: the only way to kill foodborne pathogens is by cooking them)
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, wash it first
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce any bacteria that may be present

Taking these simple precautions can greatly reduce your risk of becoming sick from eating raw food. Together with maintaining your overall health, your risk is reduced even more. But if you show the signs/symptoms of a foodborne illness (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and cramps), urgent medical attention is recommended.  If you have legal questions concerning a food poisoning illnesss, you may want to speak to a food poisoning lawyer.