Greene County's top disease investigator said today that the source
of the E. coli outbreak that has sickened people in five states appears
to be sprout seeds that were sold to growers.
"It is believed to be the seeds that were the problem," said
Kendra Williams, the county administrator for community health and epidemiology.
Three of the E. coli cases linked to eating raw sprouts that are being
investigated by federal health officials were in Greene County, local
health officials said.
Williams said three women between the ages of 25 and 49 got sick with cramps
and bloody diarrhea. The Springfield- Greene County Health Department
investigated and found that each woman had eaten a sandwich with raw clover
sprouts from Jimmy John's.
Williams said three different Jimmy John's restaurants were involved.
She said the restaurants in Springfield had obtained the sprouts from
a farm in Kansas, but neither the restaurants or the farm appeared to
be the source of the contamination.
When county health inspectors visited the Jimmy John's restaurants,
they didn't find any contaminated sprouts. Williams said the contaminated
spouts had apparently been used.
John Hershberger, the owner of Sweetwater Farms in Inman, Kan., said federal
investigators have not conclusively linked the seeds to the outbreak.
He said an investigator from the U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration
was at his farm last week but didn't find any contamination at the farm.
"They don't know that for a fact," Hershberger said of a
possible link to the seeds.
Hershberger said he had voluntarily withdrawn clover sprouts from the market.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that
it is collaborating with state and local public health officials in multiple
states to investigate an outbreak of E. coli linked to eating raw sprouts.
Using DNA "fingerprinting" of the E. coli bacteria and cross-referencing
it with a national database, public health officials have confirmed that
the bacterium is responsible for infection of 12 people in five states.
None of the three local cases resulted in hospitalizations.
Health officials said the local infections occurred between Jan. 7 and
Jan. 13. At this point, there is no reason to believe there is an ongoing
exposure risk at local restaurants.
"Jimmy John's has been extremely cooperative and has taken all
necessary steps to protect food safety at its locations," said Health
Director Kevin Gipson. "They took our investigation seriously and
treated it with prompt attention."
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