E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France could have come from seeds sourced in Egypt, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said.
A report said there was still “much uncertainty”, but fenugreek seeds imported in 2009 and 2010 “had been implicated in both outbreaks”.
More than 4,000 people were infected during the German outbreak, 48 died.
Investigators traced the source back to a bean sprout farm in Bienenbuettel, Lower Saxony.
The outbreak in Bordeaux affected 15 people and was linked to seeds sold by a firm in the UK – Thompson and Morgan, although it said there was no evidence of a link.
Both outbreaks involved the rare strain of E. coli known as O104:H4.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the strain was so rare in humans the outbreaks were unlikely to have been isolated incidents and both were linked to eating sprouting seeds.
Further investigations have been trying to determine if the source of the infection was contamination at the sites, or if they had been supplied with contaminated seeds.
Officials are investigating a possible link between seeds sold by a UK firm and an E. coli outbreak in France.
News agency AFP said 10 people have been affected by E. coli in Bordeaux.
It is thought a number of them had eaten rocket and mustard vegetable sprouts, believed to have been grown from seeds sold by Thompson and Morgan.
The Ipswich-based company told the BBC it had no evidence of a link. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said no E. coli cases had been reported in the UK.
However, it has revised its guidance and is advising people not to eat raw sprouted seeds, including alfalfa, mung beans (or beansprouts) and fenugreek.
The agency said these should only be eaten if cooked until steaming hot throughout.
A spokeswoman for Thompson and Morgan said the company sold “hundreds of thousands of packets of these seeds” throughout France, the UK and other parts of Europe every year.
“We are very confident the problem is not with our seeds. People can still grow these seeds and use these seeds with absolute confidence,” she said.
“For such a small number of people to have been affected, it does suggest that the problem is perhaps in the local area, how the seeds have been handled or how they have been grown, rather than the actual seeds themselves.”
BERLIN – THE number of people falling sick as a result of E. coli contamination has slowed to a trickle, Germany’s national disease control center said on Tuesday, even as the death toll from the outbreak rose by one to 37.
The Robert Koch Institute said a total of 3,235 people in Germany have been reported ill, only seven more than the previous day.
Germany’s health minister has cautioned that even though the outbreak is waning further deaths are possible. The local council in the northern town of Celle said a two-year-old boy died overnight, news agency DAPD reported. German authorities have narrowed the source of the outbreak to vegetable sprouts from a farm in the north of the country.
Thirty-six people in Germany and one in Sweden have now died in what has been the deadliest outbreak of E. coli ever. The crisis has devastated farmers across Europe as frightened consumers shunned vegetables after German authorities initally advised people against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.
On Tuesday, the European Union approved a 210 million euro (S$373 million) compensation package for fruit and vegetable farmers.
BERLIN — Specialists in high-tech labs tested thousands of vegetables as they hunted for the source of world’s deadliest E. coli outbreak, but in the end it was old-fashioned detective work that provided the answer: German-grown sprouts.
After more than a month of searching, health officials announced Friday they had determined that sprouts from an organic farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel were the source of the outbreak that has killed 31 people, sickened nearly 3,100 and prompted much of Europe to shun vegetables.
“It was like a crime thriller where you have to find the bad guy,” said Helmut Tschiersky-Schoeneburg, head of Germany’s consumer protection agency.
It’s little surprise that sprouts were the culprit — they have been implicated in many previous food-borne outbreaks: ones in Michigan and Virginia in 2005, and large outbreak in Japan in 1996 that killed 11 people and sickened more than 9,000.
While sprouts are full of protein and vitamins, their ability to transmit disease makes some public health officials nervous. Sprouts have abundant surface area for bacteria to cling to, and if their seeds are contaminated, washing won’t help.
“E. coli can stick tightly to the surface of seeds needed to make sprouts and they can lay dormant on the seeds for months,”
The European agriculture commissioner has proposed spending €150m (£135m) to compensate farmers affected by the E coli outbreak by paying them a proportion of the cost of unsold products.
Dacian Ciolos, speaking before emergency talks between EU agriculture ministers, said farmers could receive around 30% of the cost of vegetables they have been unable to sell due to fears over the outbreak in Germany, which has killed 22 people and made more than 2,200 ill.
“We propose €150m. We will obviously see what we get,” Ciolos said.
The plan was immediately rejected as insufficient by Spain, which has suffered disproportionately from the economic impact of the outbreak, in part because it grows a significant share of Europe’s salad produce but also because cucumbers from the country were initially blamed.
“No, Spain does not see it as sufficient,” the country’s agriculture minister, Rosa Aguilar, said. Spain and some other EU countries had drawn up an alternative plan under which farmers would be compensated for between 90% and 100% of market price losses, she said.
Her French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire, has backed the Spanish plan.
The ministers are expected to reach an agreement in principle later on Tuesday. They are coming under intense pressure from the EU farming lobby, which argues that Spanish farmers alone are losing €200m a week due to the outbreak, with weekly €100m losses in Italy.
An investigation into a deadly outbreak of E coli has been thrown into chaos after laboratory tests showed that bean sprouts grown near Hamburg, which had been identified as the likely source, are possibly not to blame.
German officials had said they were confident that sprouts from the organic Gärtenhof farm in Lower Saxony were behind the spread of a particularly virulent strain of the bacterium. There were “strong and clear indications” that the farm was involved, the federal health minister, Daniel Bahr, said.
However, Lower Saxony’s agriculture ministry said 23 of 40 samples from the farm had now tested negative for the E coli, with 17 more tests still being done.
“The search for the outbreak’s cause is very difficult as several weeks have passed since its suspected start,” the ministry said in a statement, while warning that the negative tests did not conclusively prove the sprouts had not been contaminated. The ministry said it may be some time before Europe’s shoppers know for sure what foodstuffs are safe: “A conclusion of the investigations and a clarification of the contamination’s origin is not expected in the short term.”
Mounting suspicions that the outbreak originated in Germany caused outrage in Spain, which has seen a slump in demand for its vegetables after Spanish-grown cucumbers were initially blamed.
The EU is to hold an emergency meeting to consider ways to compensate Spanish farmers for their losses.
German hospitals are struggling to cope with the surge in patients caused by the E coli outbreak, as the death toll from the virus rose to 22.
The health minister, Daniel Bahr, said hospitals in northern Germany were finding it difficult to provide enough beds and treatment for patients, with the total number of cases increasing to 2,200.
“We’re facing a tense situation with patient care,” Bahr said, “but we will manage it.”
Agriculture officials said that bean sprouts grown in one organic farm between Hamburg and Hanover were the likely cause of the illness.
Hospital authorities said blood supplies were running low and staff were exhausted and working round-the-clock, with the northern cities of Hamburg and Bremen the worst affected.
“They [the doctors] voluntarily come in on weekends and even sleep here,” Oliver Grieve, a spokesman for the Kiel University hospital in northern Germany told Spiegel Online.
Hamburg’s health minister, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, told a news conference the city was considering bringing doctors out of retirement. “We want to discuss with doctors about whether those who recently retired can be reactivated,” she said.
Patients with less serious illnesses are now being moved to nearby hospitals and operations for non-threatening diseases are being postponed.
Cases of infection by the deadly E coli bacterium have continued to spread around the world from its source in northern Germany, reaching a dozen countries by Friday evening as the German chancellor and Spanish prime minister moved to calm a diplomatic row over the source of the infection.
The Czech Republic and the US have joined the list of those dealing with cases amid concern that some of those infected had not visited Germany and so must have been infected elsewhere.
Angela Merkel has said she would push for EU help for farmers in Spain – whose cucumbers were wrongly blamed by German authorities for the outbreak.
Germany reported a further 200 cases diagnosed on the first two days of the month as the total number of people infected worldwide rose above 1,800. The total number of reported deaths in Germany is 19. Just 11 cases have been confirmed in England.
“All these cases except two are in people who reside in or had recently visited northern Germany during the incubation period for the infection … or, in one case, had contact with a visitor from northern Germany,” said the World Health Organisation in a statement.
The spread of cases in Germany has begun to slow, however, raising hopes that the outbreak might be controlled as Germans heed warnings to wash and prepare vegetables carefully and avoid raw cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce.
TU.S. farmers, processors not required to test for deadly E. coli strain
By Lyndsey Layton, Thursday, June 2, 8:28 AM
The bacterium that has killed more than a dozen Europeans, sickened nearly 2,000 more and raised international alarms would be legal if it were found on meat or poultry in the United States.
If the bacterium were to contaminate fruits or vegetables grown here, there would be no way to prevent an outbreak, because farmers and processors are not required to test for the pathogen before the food heads to supermarkets.
“If somehow this strain got into that same environment and spread rapidly, it would represent a major disaster in terms of the U.S. food industry and risk to humans,” said J. Glenn Morris, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who directs the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. “The regulatory framework is a couple of steps behind.”
The strain that has emerged in Europe is a particularly virulent version of E. coli 0104 and, in the outbreak that began in early May, has been linked to more than 1,600 illnesses and 18 deaths. About 500 people — an unusually large percentage of those who have been sickened — have developed a life-threatening kidney complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, for which there is no treatment.