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 — 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,”