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Deadly E. coli found on bean sprouts

Published: 10 Jun 2011 09:54 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Jun 2011 17:58 GMT+02:00

The discovery was made in a packet of sprouts in the garbage can of two sick people living in North Rhine-Westphalia, the state's Consumer Affairs Ministry announced.

This is "the first time an unbroken chain of evidence" has been found linking the enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria to a northern German sprouts farm, the ministry said.

The small organic farm, in the village of Bienenbüttel in Lower Saxony, has been ordered closed and all its products recalled.

The tests carried out by health institutes confirmed the presence of the virulent bacteria strain EHEC-0104 responsible for the current outbreak, the ministry added.

Two of three members of the family, living in Rhein-Sieg district, fell sick in mid-May.

North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Affairs Minister Johannes Remmel welcomed the discovery, but said there remained "a small element of uncertainty" as the bacteria was found in an open packet of sprouts rather than an unopened one which would then have been uncontaminated by the garbage can.

Earlier on Friday, health officials said they were convinced that vegetable sprouts were to blame for the contamination, adding that the farm in Lower Saxony, which first came under suspicion at the weekend, was most likely the source.

"There's no other serious lead besides the sprouts," said Reinhard Burger, head of Germany's public health authority the Robert Koch Institute, at a press conference.

"People who ate sprouts were found to be nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea or other signs of EHEC infection than those who did not," he said.

The government Friday also lifted its earlier warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers which had dealt a stinging blow to farmers at the peak of the fresh produce season in Europe.

Vegetable producers across the continent have for weeks complained about the warnings, which they say are costing them hundreds of millions of euros in lost sales. But German officials struggled for weeks to find cause of the EHEC infections, which can cause kidney failure.

"The number of new infections is declining," Burger said, referring to a drop in cases earlier this week.

But he warned that the "outbreak is not yet over", saying that some people were still falling ill after being contaminated several days ago.

After criticism of the government's handling of the crisis, the Agriculture and Health ministries said Berlin would review the response on the federal and state level.

German authorities had initially fingered cucumbers imported from Spain as responsible for the outbreak. But they later retracted the statement based on subsequent tests, infuriating Madrid and sparking threats of lawsuits.

But German Health Minister Daniel Bahr insisted that Germany had been right to warn against eating certain vegetables as long as the source of the contamination had not been pinpointed.

"Public health is the priority," he said.

AFP/DAPD/DPA/The Local/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

10:15 June 10, 2011 by ExileAdventure
"¦quot;I will not say that communication has been perfect,¦quot; Germany¦#39;s Health Minister Daniel Bahr told ZDF television, adding that much confusion has been sowed by ¦quot;self-appointed experts.¦quot;"

This really floors me! Pretty much all politicians are crappy self-servers who'll deny anything to save face, but this beats all it seems entirely typical of this government in particular and of Germans in general--ALWAYS deflecting blame, ignoring responsibility and pointing the finger at something/someone other than themselves.

Doesn't seem to occur to this idiot that if "communication" had been closer to "perfect" then there'd been less sowing ground for this supposed "self-appointed experts". Furthermore, it wasn't due to so-called experts that THIS government blamed Spanish cucumbers!!
10:18 June 10, 2011 by marimay
The second half of your second paragraph is so dead-on. It gets so old and annoying....
10:29 June 10, 2011 by melbournite
To be fair its not just German politicians that are like this, its all of them - the scum rises to the top. I guess what has happened is that they've had heavy consultations with a PR company over the last few days who told them to "warn" of more deaths, to pretend as if they are in control and now by lifting the warning on fresh vegetables they are more interested in the economic impact rather than people's lives. The truth is they dont have a clue how this arose and has probably more to do with big business interfering in the food production industry - profits always mean cutting corners.

The latest "theory" is a joke.. Frankfurt and Gottingen? but the outbreak is centered around Hamburg
10:53 June 10, 2011 by Kayak
There are certain unavoidable truths; Ilse Aigner ist dorf!!! She should be forced to eat Spanish vegetables and nothing else AND use Google Street View for every day of ALL of one year!!! ;-)
11:25 June 10, 2011 by Kanji
Is it really the Sprouts or something else? maybe next week another findings. Hope experts can really pin point the main source asap.
11:44 June 10, 2011 by zeddriver
It's for sure that Germany's government is no different than most. In the USA. Every time a thunder storm came near our city. The government would issue warnings telling people to get into your basement and hide. After a while most would ignore those warnings.

But on the other hand. If the government had not issued warnings. And a tornado wiped out the city.

So in the arena of public safety, No matter what government does. People will be pissed off. Issuing warnings is a job position that I would not want to be in. If you issue a warning to early. Your called reactionary and over zealous. Issue a warning to late and your call heartless and uncaring.
11:55 June 10, 2011 by marimay
Well, considering that new cases are dropping, it is probably safe to eat vegetables again. BUT, not knowing the exact source of contamination leaves the possibility for this to happen again and soon. It is a shame they can not come up with factual evidence rather than just settling with the most "serious lead".
12:38 June 10, 2011 by lunchbreak
This latest announcement by german health officials really is outrageous. Its just a transparent effort to save the farmers money. Get back to us when you know the source for sure.
12:55 June 10, 2011 by justmecookin
Well...good ole Germany hasn't a clue to the E-coli outbreak...farmers are screaming lift the band as we are losing millions....so as of today the band is lifted....they say its likely the spouts....love that keyword...likely...in other words if the band is lifted we can see if others get ill and die. They botch the entire investigation with their lack of ability and knowledge...I am just fuming at the way this was handled. I am not saying it isnt the spouts but by not knowing you are still putting people at risk Not to mention Merkel returns 24 hours ago stating find the source...so they did

about an hour ago · Privacy: · Like ·
13:26 June 10, 2011 by ukpunk1
So, that means I can have a Whopper with lettuce and tomatoes again?
13:50 June 10, 2011 by lunchbreak
Nope. The meat will kill you.
14:03 June 10, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
Meat???? When did they start putting meat in Whoppers????
14:52 June 10, 2011 by trash head
I see, all the bio-specialists here who have at least no clue, but bullsh!tting all the time around.

I dont wanna say anything but the last EHEC epidemic in the "well developed" nationes caused in Japan 10.000 deads and in California 2000 + millions of recalled burgers and the source wasnt found also.

Not sure what you guys try to blame the gvt for right now, but the only critic can point to the burocracy and the federalism, which slow down all possible reactions.
15:49 June 10, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
@trash head...where did you get the "10,000" deaths in Japan numbers? And are you saying 2,000 deaths in California? In the 2006 outbreak there were a total of 200 cases and 4 deaths - nationwide. The 2009 e. coli outbreak from hamburger resulted in 28 cases - nationwide.

It is also important to understand that e. coli outbreaks are difficult to trace or prove because the bacteria is often on just one batch among many, and by the time investigators start food testing it may already be out of the food chain. Unless one can identify the exact index case and obtain a sample of the food the person was eating, the exact source may never be identified. That is why it is so important to start interviewing affected persons within 24 - 48 hours after an outbreak is identified.

At least you chose a good name for yourself...
16:10 June 10, 2011 by jbaker
Grow your own food. Eat it when fresh and can or preserve when fall comes. This will lower the E-Coli outbreaks. For those not interested in growing your own - McDonalds,Burger King,Taco bell,Pizza Hut and all the other fast food places await you.
16:12 June 10, 2011 by trash head
Indeed i missed infected at the 2k in California / US.

Also i messed up with 10k deads, 10k infected - 10 dead. In scotland 470 infected, 18 dead.

The values abt the amount of EHEC infected check out the official released datasheets of the US.

I foudn this nice statistics through the following site.

http://www.medicoconsult.de/wiki/EHEC-Infektion#Epidemiologie

And btw, nationwide 40 deads ;) from 14000 infected. So the official report of US.

Not sure where you got your little values from.
16:22 June 10, 2011 by harcourt
Trash head: I fear that if your ultra shorthand gets any worse you will lose the few readers you already have.
16:37 June 10, 2011 by Beachrider
This exact story got out several days ago. It got quashed because the current crop of bean sprouts didn't show any sign of this strain of E. Coli. They haven't been able to find ANY produce with this strain of E. Coli, yet. All of the evidence that exists is Circumstantial, but quite good-Circumstantial for this kind of situation.

It was BAD when German officials quickly blamed Spanish & Dutch produce because they showed a distant relative of these E. Coli. Those E. Coli were never going to be associated with the one that is killing/infecting so many people right now. What they got was dis-proof of a connection, but they played it in the public, anyway.

Because of the fast-jump on non-German produce and the slow-acceptance of circumstantial evidence that it IS the German produce, German officials are looking very bad. In a health crisis, close mindedness (or isolationist thinking) GETS PEOPLE KILLED.
17:51 June 10, 2011 by catjones
And this was from an organic farm. Bio-markets were supposed to be so healthy and back-to-nature whilst regular grocery stores were old news.
18:07 June 10, 2011 by Relaxed
I've never trusted bio food and try to avoid it whenever I can.
06:38 June 11, 2011 by belladons
Jbaker, and all others who posted comments on this story highlights a couple issues to me: 1. Whenever a politician, financial consultant, or lobbyist SPEAKS to the general public, NEVER TRUST IT. There's a hidden agenda. 2. I agree with jbaker, grow your own fruits and vegetables. Food corporations are the unhealthiest around. Lastly, and I know it does not contribute to this story, but get away from foreign oil. Many are being exploited as most likely this money is being used by dictators to fund extremism i.e. Al'Qeda, and the Taliban. Go green and green all the way. I believe Germany, and other western nations have it right especially Germany.
10:09 June 11, 2011 by iseedaftpeople
@catjones:

"And this was from an organic farm. Bio-markets were supposed to be so healthy and back-to-nature whilst regular grocery stores were old news. "

it has little to do with that. It's about the germination process, organic or not... Those sprouts are kept in a moist environment above 30 degrees celsius to germinate, which is an ideal breeding ground for myriads of microorganisms of all kinds. It could have happened similarly at any large industrial sprout producer.
11:03 June 11, 2011 by abemarch
Public officials are obliged to provide information to the consumers. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't. To err on the side of safety is better than saying nothing.

When I heard that Spain was going to sue Germany I got pissed. If they sued, I was determined not to buy any products from Spain. When I was in the food store, I heard similar comments from customers.

Germany is a huge market for products from EU countries. The consumer is king. The consumer may have sympathy for someone falsely accused and buy more. By the same token, using tactics of revenge or retaliation means everyone loses.

It is still not certain about the source of the E coli, and staying on the side of caution is prudent.

Enhanced growing methods may be part of the problem. Cucumbers, naturally grown, were not yet available on the German market when the outbreak occurred. Farmers markets are usually the first to offer fresh vegetables and they were not available. I have a big garden and will wait for the growing cycle to complete the process. I want my vegetables to be fresh and tasty, naturally ripened. Locally grown, within the natural growing season/cycle is less risky, and contributes to the local economy.

.
14:03 June 11, 2011 by JohnnesKönig
17:51 June 10, 2011 by catjones

And this was from an organic farm. Bio-markets were supposed to be so healthy and back-to-nature whilst regular grocery stores were old news.

18:07 June 10, 2011 by Relaxed

I've never trusted bio food and try to avoid it whenever I can.

This is the EXACT thing that they want!
17:52 June 11, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
@trash head -

I cite the data from the Centers for Disease Control (U.S.) for my posts. The CDC 2011 estimate for e. coli is 2,138 with a 90% credible interval of 549 - 4,614 (nationwide hospitalizations.) E. coli is not even among the top 5 causes of death by pathogenic organisms, in spite of an estimated 265,000 cases of STEC annually in the U.S. This year there were two confirmed outbreaks of STEC in the U.S. - 1 with 8 reported cases, and 1 with 14 reported cases. This is the problem with citing statistics - one has to have a full frame of reference to make conclusions.
21:35 June 11, 2011 by owldog
Essentially, it seems the package of "organic" sprouts in which they found the bacteria, was in a garbage can.

A food can no longer be truly tested for the source of bacteria after it's been found in a garbage container, and certainly cannot be called "organic" anymore.

The corporate-dominated TV media in the U.S.A. is spreading propanganda, fait accompli, that "organic sprouts" are to blame. This is consistent with the American Agribusiness and FrankenFood Industry's enduring campaign of continually trying to put "Organic" and "E.Coli" in the same sentence.

The farm was inspected and found to be spotless.
00:14 June 12, 2011 by RHKo
¦quot;It was the sprouts¦quot; as the vehicle of dissemination, but the cause of the illnesses and deaths is a very particular bacterial strain: Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) O104:H4. ¦quot;Since 2008, eight cases of STEC O104 have been reported in the EU, by Austria (one case in 2010), Belgium (two cases in 2008), Denmark (one case in 2008), Norway (three cases in 2009), and Sweden (one case in 2010); three of these cases were imported. In addition, between 2004 and 2009, Austria and Germany reported some positive findings of STEC O104 in food or animals. However, the suggested outbreak strain of serotype STEC 0104:H4 has been rarely reported worldwide.¦quot; ¦quot;The isolated outbreak strain STEC O104:H4 is very rare. Prior to the current outbreak, only one case has been documented in literature, and this case was a woman in Korea in 2005.¦quot; http://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications/Publications/1105_TER_Risk_assessment_EColi.pdf

In addition to the rarity of disease caused by this particular strain, there is the resistance of it to multiple antibiotics, including recently introduced drugs unlikely to be used in agriculture because of their cost. In general, antibiotic resistance is the result of widespread inappropriate use of antibiotics. However, the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals in Europe ended in 2006, and studies of outpatient (human) antibiotic usage in Europe have repeatedly shown that greatest use is in southern Europe and least in the north where this outbreak has occurred.

So, we have an outbreak of food-borne illness linked to organic bean sprouts locally grown without the use of manure, with a bacterial strain unusual in many ways. This does not make sense. Some will suggest bioterrorism using a laboratory-produced bacterial strain, considering the possible Korea link and the antibiotic resistance. But this does not make sense either; 1) it would make more sense to use a more common STEC such as O157, and 2) the antibiotic resistance does not make the strain more deadly, as antibiotics are not used in the treatment of the illness, as doing so can precipitate the release of more toxin from the bacteria already present.

Very strange.
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