October has dealt sprout growers a bittersweet mix of news. Most recently, Kroger – the nation’s largest grocery retailer – stopped carrying sprouts in all stores under its corporate umbrella Monday. That means consumers will no longer find fresh sprouts at grocers such as City Market, Dillons, Jay C, Food 4 Less or Fred Meyer, among a slew of others. But Kroger’s announcement came just two weeks after gourmet sandwich chain Jimmy John’s announced the impending return of sprouts to its menu on its Facebook page. The chain yanked sprouts from the menu last February after the ingredient connected its sandwiches to five foodborne illness outbreaks over the course of four years. Dropping sprouts didn’t sit well with a vocal constituency of Jimmy John’s fanatics. They took to the company’s Facebook page earlier this year to plead for sprouts to return. Some complained in person at their local shop. Others said they’d boycott the chain until it brought sprouts back. It appears owner Jimmy John Liautaud was listening. “I am rolling out a new sprout,” he wrote to his Facebook fans on October 3. “Costs more for me, it’s tougher to manage, but we think we hit a home-run on this one.” By now, all Illinois Jimmy John’s locations should once again be carrying sprouts. Other locations will begin serving them as part of a 16-week national roll-out projected to be completed by the end of January. Jimmy John’s spokeswoman Mary Trader told Food Safety News that the company did not have any more information or commentary to release about their return to sprouts. She had no word on what type of new sprout Liautaud was referencing. Sprouts served in Jimmy John’s sandwiches have infected at least 460 people with various strains of E. coli and Salmonella since 2008. That number includes 256 people infected with Salmonella Saintpaul from alfalfa sprouts in February 2009, as well as another 140 sickened in a December 2010 outbreak of Salmonella I4, , 12:i:-, also traced back to alfalfa sprouts. The chain finally cut sprouts from the menu after an E. coli O26 outbreak beginning December 2011 sickened another 29 customers. Those infections came from clover sprouts, which the company had used as a replacement for its alfalfa sprouts under the assumption they’d be a safer alternative. Sprouts have caused more than 54 foodborne illness outbreaks worldwide since 1990, including the summer 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany that killed 53 people and sickened roughly 4,000. Sprouts are grown in warm, wet environments — ideal conditions for bacteria proliferation. If any pathogens exist on the seed during sprouting, they have little stopping them from multiplying to harmful levels. That inherent safety risk is exactly what prompted Kroger to stop selling sprouts this week, company spokesman Glynn Jenkins told Food Safety News. “We think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “We’re being more proactive and recognizing there is a high food safety risk associated with this particular product. Certainly we apologize for any inconvenience to customers, but we have not heard any negative customer reaction to the news.” Jenkins said the company’s decision was not prompted by any particular outbreak, but was simply a step Kroger felt it needed to take in order to ensure the health and safety of customers. Kroger is open to reassessing its sprout policy if new technology and growing methodology make consistently safe sprout harvesting a reality. Kroger’s move follows two years after retail giant Walmart discontinued sprouts in October 2010 for the same reason. Walmart spokeswoman Veronica Marshall told Food Safety News the company is ‘absolutely’ satisfied with its decision to discontinue sprout sales and has no plans to reintroduce them. She added that the general customer response was favorable back in 2010. And though it might not be much of a consolation to Jimmy John’s fanatics looking to fill their sandwiches, Marhsall did point out that Walmart still carried one type of sprout: Brussels sprouts.