E. coil poisoning has been linked to raw clover sprouts eaten at the Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches chain in five states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12 people are currently known to have been infected in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin. Of the 11 people with data currently available, 10 had eaten at the Illinois-based chain in the week preceding illness.
Those who have reported infection, all of whom are females, reported onset of the illness between December 25, 2011, and January 15, 2012. Two individuals have currently been hospitalized.
The particular strain of E. coli associated with this outbreak, STEC 026, has rarely been seen before in PulseNet, the CDC's surveillance tool for food-borne infections.
It is only just over a year since Jimmy John's was also linked to an outbreak of salmonella, caused by alfalfa sprouts, that the CDC sickened 140 people. The chain was also linked to an salmonella outbreak across the Midwest in 2009 and in Boulder, Colo. in 2008.
It may be surprising to learn that sprouts are one of the most common foods associated with food-borne illness. They need a warm, humid environment with which to grow, encouraging bacteria growth. The seeds themselves can also easily be contaminated through manure fertilizer.
The CDC recommends cooking sprouts thoroughly to kill the bacteria and reduce the risk of illness.