E. coli-infected raw clover sprouts sickened at least a dozen people across at least five states, officials announced Wednesday, the first reported food-borne E. coli outbreak of 2012.
Officials reported no deaths from the E. coli-infected sprouts that sent two people to hospital and sickened residents in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin.
The outbreak is currently under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
E. coli, a bacteria normally found in the human digestive tract, can become toxic if ingested.
Investigators preliminarily linked the current outbreak to raw clover sprouts at Jimmy John's restaurants typically found as a sandwich garnish.
CDC investigators found that in 11 tested infected patients, 10 had eaten at a Jimmy John's sandwich restaurant within a week of becoming ill.
Preliminary traceback information has identified a common lot of clover seeds used to grow clover sprouts served at Jimmy John's restaurant locations where ill persons ate, an online report on the investigation stated.
The initial lab work showed that the E. coli strain, Escherichia coli serogroup O26 (STEC O26), produces a Shiga toxin that can cause mild intestinal disease to severe kidney damage.
In November, E. coli-infected romaine lettuce caused a 10-state outbreak that sickened 60 residents, CDC reported.
In October, the food safety branch issued a suggestion that diners hold the sprouts, since the thin, tender succulent is a perfect vehicle for pathogens.
It is a good idea for people who want to lower their risk for food poisoning to cook raw sprouts or avoid eating them raw, Lt. Cmdr. Rajal Mody, medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Public Health Service, wrote in a note in October.
Outbreaks of the Shiga-toxin producing E. coli can be devastating, as Europeans found out in the summer of 2011. By July 5, officials in Germany reported that 852 patients became so sick their kidneys became affected due to the E. coli and 32 patients died from kidney failure. In total, an estimated 4,000 people became ill.
The investigation prompted at least one farmer to withdraw his sprouts from the marketplace, according to The Springfield News Leader newspaper in Springfield, Mo.
John Hershberger, the owner of Sweetwater Farms in Inman, Kan., told the newspaper that an investigator with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration visited his farm, but didn't find any contamination.
The outbreak comes just after the International Sprout Grower's Association launched a campaign to make sprouts a part of your health eating in 2012.