Illinois-based sandwich chain Jimmy John's has been accused by the Food and Drug Administration of serving vegetables linked to several recent outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella.

In a warning letter issued Tuesday, the FDA cited the company for purchasing and selling “adulterated fresh produce,” including cucumbers and clover sprouts that were recently linked to outbreaks in several states. The most recent outbreak cited in the letter took place in Iowa in late 2019 and sickened 22 people.

“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,” FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas said in the letter to James North, the president of Jimmy John's. “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.”

In compliance with the FDA’s warning, Jimmy John’s has ceased selling sprouts at all of its over 2,800 franchise locations. It must also address the violation to the FDA within 15 days.

“Food safety is our top priority,” North said. “This removal (of sprouts) was out of an abundance of caution and was not initiated by any known, immediate threat.”

A letter was also sent to Sprouts Unlimited Wholesale Foods, a Marion, Iowa-based wholesale food distributor, which provided Jimmy John’s with the contaminated produce.

E. coli is capable of causing diarrhea or kidney failure. Most adults recover from an E. coli infection quickly but children and the elderly are at an increased risk. Salmonella causes infections that can sometimes be fatal. 

Jimmy John's was acquired in October by Atlanta-based holding company Inspire Brands. Other Inspire Brands chains include Arby's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Rusty Taco and Sonic Drive-In.

Jimmy John's A Jimmy John's location in Pasadena, California. Photo: Creative Commons/Winston1085