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Deadly E. coli found in Spanish cucumbers
Photo: DPA

Deadly E. coli found in Spanish cucumbers

Published: 26 May 2011 14:12 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 May 2011 17:38 GMT+02:00

Cucumbers from Spain have been identified as a source of the deadly E. coli outbreak gripping Germany, health officials announced Thursday.

German supermarkets were on Thursday afternoon pulling Spanish cucumbers off their shelves in response to the scare.

The contaminated vegetables were sold at a Hamburg market, Hamburg’s Health Minister Cornelia Storck said.

Of four cucumbers found to be carrying the bacteria, three came from two separate Spanish suppliers while the origin of the fourth was unknown. One of the contaminated cucumbers was an organic product.

At least three people have died during the outbreak and other deaths are suspected to be related to the bacteria. Roughly 140 people are considered by health authorities to have been severely sickened during the outbreak. Most of the roughly 600 cases of E. coli reported so far have been centred in northern Germany, particularly in the Hamburg area.

The strain of E. coli gripping Germany is a particularly virulent one, said Helge Karch, a researcher at the University Hospital of Münster, whose team discovered the identity of the strain and is developing a test to more easily detect it.

The discovery is “an important step in the search for paths of transmission,” Karch said.

The public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), encouraged people to avoid eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce for the time being.

That prompted cafes and bakeries in the north of the country to abandon salad en masse, spurring a noticeable drop in vegetable sales on Thursday.

Kurt-Henning Klamoth, president of the German Farmers Federation (DBB) accused the media of scaremongering and condemned speculation that the illness has been spread through organic fertilizers.

Health officials cautioned that they were still looking for a definitive cause and emphasized that more deaths were likely.

“We must expect to lose patients," said University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf kidney specialist Rolf Stahl.

The country’s largest supermarket chain, Metro – which operates Real, Metro Cash & Carry and Galeria Kaufhof – along with Kaiser’s Tengelmann and the Rewe Group have all stopped sales of the vegetables.

Metro plans as a precaution to stock only cucumbers from other countries.

Discounter Aldi Nord said it doesn’t normally stock Spanish cucumber anyway but it has taken other vegetables and fruits from Spain such as spinach leaves off its shelves anyway.

Aldi Süd, which operates in the south of the country, said it saw no need to take action for the time being because it did not believe any of its products were affected. Spain is Germany’s second biggest supplier of cucumbers within the European Union, sending 179,500 tonnes of the vegetable to Germany in 2009, according to the Federal Office for Agriculture.

Meanwhile European Union officials expressed concern that the outbreak would soon spread beyond Germany's borders. The bloc was expected to soon declare a special alert, which would authorize EU members to take special action to protect their populations, such as putting restrictions on German vegetable imports.

“It’s a matter of time until the hazardous E. coli pathogens jump to other EU countries,” European Parliament Committee for Health and Food Safety chairman Jo Leinen told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

As a pre-emptive measure, the bloc was expected soon to declare a special alert, which would authorize EU members to take special action to protect their populations, such as putting restrictions on German vegetable imports.

The latest death to be definitively linked to the outbreak was a 41-year-old woman from Cuxhaven on the North Sea. Hamburg health authorities said they were determining whether a 38-year-old man found dead in his apartment on Tuesday may have been killed by E. Coli.

The Local/DAPD/mdm

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:20 May 26, 2011 by Simon_Kellett
In other news 11 people died on the roads yesterday: experts called on citizens to avoid going on the roads until they are made safe.
14:37 May 26, 2011 by elboertjie
Better yet Simon_Kellett, war was declared on car manufacturers and the military is bombing them for humanitarian reasons to keep us safe on the road.

I wonder if this is not economic warfare/blackmail on Spain with regards to forcing them into accepting more debt and implementing more severe austerity measures as opposed to defaulting or leaving the euro.

A case of: 'Unless you do what we say, here is a small sample of things to come'.
14:45 May 26, 2011 by freechoice
take it easy people!! it's not rapture yet...

well at least not yet...
15:17 May 26, 2011 by auniquecorn
elboertjie, I actually thought the same thing.
15:50 May 26, 2011 by Johnne
Oh God, Spain is in trouble.
17:30 May 26, 2011 by JDee
most likely they used manure to fertilise the plants in the greenhouses, and German bakeries don't usually wash the bits of lettuce and cucumber they put in brotchen....but the root cause of e-coli is still industrial farming methods, not vegetables!
17:53 May 26, 2011 by anurag_bagaria
I wonder, how come this supply from Spain to Germany has reached only one particular region / city. I am more than sure that the consignment should have reached other regions too and since no ill news from other cities, the cucumbers alone could not be the reason for this.
20:09 May 26, 2011 by steffsteff
I totally agree with you anurag_bagaria.
20:41 May 26, 2011 by _scythe_
A common sense approach to not-home-grown, unprocessed food is to peel the skin, if possible.

On another note, now vegetables in Germany are not only tasteless, but deadly.
21:04 May 26, 2011 by wenddiver
Suggest you live off Energy drinks, Coca-Cola, Chocolate, Marshmellows, McDonalds and Cigarettes like the US and avoid foods that are capable of rotting or other things found in nature.
00:07 May 27, 2011 by Rocho
Mmmhhh...

So perfect German people couldn't guess where the fourth cucumber came from?... How strange... And also you talk about two different Spanish providers... what a coincidence!... This smells like something in the DIVINE distribution and store chain INSIDE Germany, in Hamburg was, ... dirty?, not so clean?...

But now the damage is already done, people ill or died, and your finger ALWAYS point towards the same place: Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland.
00:13 May 28, 2011 by fromstuttgart
Turns my stomach every time I go into a cafe in Germany and watch the bare hands moving from food item to food item, coffee machine, back to pretzels and bread, wipe off on stained apron, go to the back to do who knows what, and back out to handle more food. Or the doner guy who wipes his hands on his dirty apron and jams a pita into that hand to slice it open; wipes his brow, and goes back to touching the food going into your lunch.
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