Jimmy John's Pulls Sprouts From Menu

Jimmy John's is pulling clover sprouts from its menu after customers fell ill with E. coli traced to the item, the sandwich chain wrote on its Facebook page Tuesday.

At least one other sandwich chain has said it will remove sprouts – though alfalfa sprouts and not the clover variety removed by Jimmy John's — from its menu out of concern for its guests' health.

Executives of Champaign, Ill.-based Jimmy John's, which operates or franchises more than 1,200 restaurants, have made no official comment about the issue.

A report released earlier by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicated that investigators believe recent E. coli illnesses are associated with eating clover sprouts in some of its restaurants.

However, recent postings on the Jimmy John's Facebook wall said founder and chief executive Jimmy John Liautaud has ordered restaurants systemwide to remove clover sprouts from the menu because of quality-control problems among its suppliers. His Facebook postings often were in response to Jimmy John's users critical of the move.

"A lot of folks dig my sprouts, but I will only serve the best of the best. Sprouts were inconsistent and inconsistency does not equal the best," a post attributed to Jimmy John's stated.

An earlier Jimmy John's post complained about government actions towards the chain.

Replying to one user who was upset about clover sprouts being pulled, Liautaud wrote: "I FEEL YOUR PAIN! I serve 1mm customers a day and for 30 years have never experienced this type of bullying from the CDC. Anyway, gov is no longer here to serve us we are here to serve them and those who vote for them. Onward an upward! Peace, jimmy."

Indicating repeatedly in his posts that, "I'm no quitter," Liautaud said in reply to a fan that the chain was testing snow pea shoots in a Champaign store, writing, "in my Champaign store right now; I'll keep you posted."

The CDC has cautioned that sprouts of varying types have been associated with at least 30 illness outbreaks since 1996 — many from E. coli and Salmonella contamination — leading numerous restaurant chains, including Carl's Jr., to remove them from their menus.

Following publicity about the association between the recent E. coli outbreak and sprouts served at Jimmy John's, officials of 53-unit Erbert and Gerbert's Sandwich Shops said Friday they had ordered restaurants systemwide to remove alfalfa sprouts from the menu.

They said the decision to remove sprouts was based on recent multi-state outbreaks of serious health issues associated with sprouts, and that the move was proactive, as the chain has not experienced any negative issues with its current supply of alfalfa sprouts.

"The decision to pull the sprouts from our menu systemwide is being made to protect the health of our guests," said Eric Wolfe, chief executive and president of E&G Franchise Systems Inc. of Eau Claire, Wis.

"We value the well-being of our customers and felt removing all sprouts from our menu and sandwich line was the best way to eliminate the risk."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the recall of sprouts of a variety other than clover. Jimmy John's has pulled its clover sprouts as stated in the updated story.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at alan.liddle@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN