Sprouts Out at Jimmy John’s Following FDA Censure
The Food and Drug Administration sent out a public letter to Jimmy John’s, censuring the company over its response to a handful of foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years. The letter, a rarity for a major restaurant brand, gave the company 15 days to respond.
In the letter sent February 21, the FDA deemed that Jimmy John’s food was “adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act)[21 U.S.C. § 342(a)(1)] in that they bear or contain an added poisonous or deleterious substance which may render them injurious to health.”
The sending of a letter like this is an exceptional event. Of the latest 2,727 such letters, this is the only foodservice, restaurant or franchise listed. Letters like this typically are sent to food producers, importers, medical device companies and lately many vape product manufacturers.
The FDA zeroed in on sprouts and cucumbers that were to blame in a series of foodborne illness outbreaks noted in the letter: one in 2012 that sickened 29 people with E. coli; one in 2013 that sickened 13 people; one in 2014 that sickened 19 people; one in 2018 that sickened 10; and one that popped up in January of this year. The latest outbreak sickened 22 people in Iowa and was linked to sprouts at Jimmy John’s. That led to a recall of sprouts by the vendor company Sprouts Unlimited and an extra sanitation process, also noted in the letter.
“We acknowledge your parent company’s, Inspire Brands, decision in December 2019 to destroy sprouts on hand in all of your Iowa Jimmy John’s restaurants, and to implement an additional, one-time cleaning and sanitation at Iowa based Jimmy John’s restaurants,” read the letter. “However, neither you nor your parent company proposed any corrective actions to prevent these, or other Jimmy John’s restaurants, from receiving adulterated produce, specifically sprouts.”
Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response, also issued a statement on the enforcement action.
“Jimmy John’s restaurants have been implicated in multiple outbreaks that have spanned the past seven years and impacted consumers in no fewer than 17 states. Jimmy John’s has not demonstrated implementation of long-term sustainable corrections to its supply chain to assure the safety of ingredients used in its products,” said Yiannas. “Americans expect the foods they consume to be safe. We will hold companies accountable when they do not take adequate measures to ensure the safety of the foods they provide.”
The FDA gave Jimmy John’s and president James North 15 days to respond before potential “enforcement action.” North, the longtime leader who took over as CEO last year, issued a statement addressing the letter and the company response.
“Food safety is our top priority. Sprouts present particular challenges, given our unwavering commitment to world-class food safety standards. Therefore, we made the decision to permanently remove sprouts from all restaurants and acted swiftly to do so. As of Monday, February 24, sprouts are no longer being served in any restaurant, and they will remain out of our restaurants permanently.”
Whether that response is enough to avoid enforcement action or if there will be further food safety initiatives at the brand remain to be seen. The company declined to elaborate further on next steps.
Sprouts, it should be noted, are one of the top foods to cause food poisoning due to the difficulty in washing the minute produce and the warm, humid conditions in which sprouts are grown. Those conditions are also ideal climates for germs like E. coli, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which advises consumers to thoroughly wash and cook them before consumption.