The year is still young, but the decision by Jimmy Johnâs Gourmet Sandwiches to drop alfalfa sprouts from its menu in favor of clover sprouts has to be one of its more bizarre, head-scratching moments.
The Champaign, Ill.-based chain gave a seemingly plausible reason for the switch. Founder Jimmy John Liautaud claimed smoother-surfaced clover seeds are easier to clean than alfalfa, minimizing the risk of foodborne illness such as the salmonella outbreak that sickened his customers in Illinois and nearby states.
That position might make some sense. But Jimmy Johnâs couldnât have taken it at a worse time.
Just days before, two of the chainâs Oregon customers â who ate clover sprouts â were numbered among the nine victims of a salmonella sproutbreak in the Pacific Northwest by health officials there.
Kent, Wash.-based Sprouters Northwest had just done a voluntary recall of clover sprouts.
It raised the question of how Jimmy Johnâs came to its decision. As I write, no answer has yet been given by the company.
While Jimmy Johnâs was silent, one outspoken critic of sprouts â Oregon state epidemiologist William Keene â speculated on how the decision may have come about.
âI suspect someone is looking at a list of sproutbreaks and seeing the vast majority involve alfalfa, then mung bean and maybe a few clover,â Keene said.
âBut theyâre not looking at the rate per amount consumed. The problem is with sprouting, not with whether it comes from this kind of seed or that kind of seed. Nothing Iâve seen suggests that one of these products is OK, and alfalfa is terrible.â
Like melons, tomatoes and lettuce, sprouts have no kill step for pathogens.
âBut at least we donât take those foods and put them into an incubator before we feed them to people, which is what we do with sprouts,â Keene said.
âThere are more sprout outbreaks than lettuce if you look at relative amounts.â
He predicts that if clover sprout consumption rises at Jimmy Johnâs, so over time will clover outbreaks.
âWhen you see a chain like Jimmy Johnâs do this, youâve got to wonder what theyâre thinking,â he said.
âWhy would they want their brand tarnished?â
The ball remains in Jimmy Johnâs court. The problems of its suppliers are its own problems.
What's your take on salmonella outbreaks and Jimmy John's switch to clover sprouts? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.