• Germany's news in English

Bean sprouts now suspects in E. coli crisis

The Local · 5 Jun 2011, 20:17

Published: 05 Jun 2011 14:24 GMT+02:00
Updated: 05 Jun 2011 20:17 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann told reporters on Sunday that health authorities in the state had identified bean sprouts as the likely cause of the bacterial health crisis, which has killed 21 people.

While a conclusive laboratory analysis was still pending, with results not expected until Monday morning, the Lower Saxony Health Ministry felt the indications were strong enough to issue a public warning against eating such sprouts which are typically used in salads and consumed raw.

The restaurants and food outlets to which the cases of E. coli had been traced all had received shipments of the particular beansprouts, he said.

The supplier of the sprouts is a farm based in the Lower Saxony town of Uelzen. Two employees reportedly were suffering diarrhoea. The farm supplies various types of sprouts including mung bean sprouts, radish sprouts, pea sprouts and lentil seeds.

The fresh revelation came as German Health Minister Daniel Bahr said the scale of the E. coli outbreak in the country had overwhelmed hospitals in northern Germany. Meanwhile, experts speculated that the pathogen might be linked to biogas facilities.

So far, there are some 2,500 cases of confirmed or suspected infections, leaving hospitals – particularly in Hamburg and Bremen – without enough resources to handle the influx of people needing treatment.

"The patient care situation is strained," Bahr told newpaper Bild am Sonntag. The health minister suggested that hospitals already operating above capacity transfer patients to other clinics in the area with extra vacancies.

The paper reported that German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner, as well as state health and consumer protection ministers, would attend an emergency meeting on the E. coli crisis on Wednesday, presumably in Berlin.

German Health Minister Bahr planned to visit the Hamburg-Eppendorf university hospital Sunday to get an overview of the patient care situation.

Members of the political opposition have called on the government to set up a crisis management team. Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary whip of the centre-left Social Democrats, said ministries, authorities, states, hospitals and health agencies have failed to coordinate their efforts to address the outbreak.

Meanwhile, SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach told B.Z. am Sonntag that there was no hotline to provide the public with information on the situation.

Authorities are still scrambling to find the source of the deadly bacteria. According to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, experts believe it is possible that the pathogen could be linked to biogas facilities – a claim the sector denies.

Bernd Schottdorf, founder of Europe's largest private medical lab, told the paper that the plants' fermenting vessels have produced types of bacteria that have never been seen before.

"They cross-breed and fuse with one another – what happens exactly is something that is largely unexplored," he added.

Story continues below…

Schottdorf said the resulting mixtures of pathogens are present in fertilisers delivered to farms, underscoring the need to examine German biogas plants for possible pathogens.

The head of the agricultural and veterinary academy AVA in Horstmar, Ernst-Günther Hellwig, agreed, saying the E. coli pathogen could potentially be linked to biogas facilities.

The German Biogas Association rejected that possibility; according to the industry group, EU regulations mandate that biogas plant operators follow hygienisation standards, and any remaining pathogens are rendered inactive after the fermenting substrate is heated for one hour.

The Local/DPA/DAPD/arp

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

15:58 June 5, 2011 by catjones
....health minister suggested that hospitals already operating above capacity transfer patients to other clinics in the area with extra vacancies.

The hospitals had to wait for this genius to tell them the obvious.
17:34 June 5, 2011 by margoelena
the problem is obviously the meat industry, with its over-use of antibiotics. Pumping antibiotics into livestock feed creates these monster bugs... the manure from the animals then infiltrates the water system, and vegetable crops get contaminated through irrigation.

this problem is a downward spiral... like an addiction, once you start the antibiotic train, you have to keep adding more and more and more in order for it to keep working... meanwhile, the microbes are outsmarting us, and will continue to do so. What would need to happen to stop this problem is nothing short of revolutionary. meat production needs to be scaled down, to become more small-scale... such production needs to be designed in such a way that disease is less likely to occur... with less animals in one space... with healthier animals. ruminants needs to be grass-fed instead of fed with corn... the acidic conditions in the rumen due to corn-feeding is what created the virulent bug e.coli 0157:H7 (see the documentary Food, Inc.). animals need to be fed less antibiotics, in accordance with organic management standards... in organic production, when animals are given antibiotics, they are isolated from the rest of the group.

so basically, we need to become more mindful of the horrible effects of antibiotics and adjust meat production to the planet's evolving needs...including, obviously, maintaining human health. meanwhile, the more of us who reject conventional meat and opt for organic meat or a vegetarian lifestyle... the better. this capitalistic industrialization of food has to be stopped... and we can choose to not support it.
17:44 June 5, 2011 by marian angela
margoelena-- I so agree with you and everything you have written here. I hope the doctors can help those people that are ill and that they make a full recovery. People need to be more vigilant about what they eat.

Better to buy from local farmers. It is time to take note and more investigations into all industry, more transparency is needed in every country and stricter hygiene methods. What's with this restaurant in luebeg?

Have a nice evening
18:36 June 5, 2011 by marimay
One should not "pig out" without giving any thought as to where their food comes from. We should quit being gluttons.
19:38 June 5, 2011 by aceroni
Guys, I agree with you that one should eat local, but this has nothing to do with this story... Uelzen is only 94km from Hamburg. These are not chinese sprouts!

Anyway, it's pretty interesting that finally they realized the source was to be found near Hamburg, with most of the cases in that area, after they destroyed the agricultural industry of half Europe with their unsubstantied public declarations.

This time Germany should definitely pay the damages.
19:39 June 5, 2011 by anaverageguy
So the article points out that bio gas facilities may actually play a role and says nothing about livestock production methods.

The solution is simple: cook your food, keep your kitchen and utensils clean, and don't eat vegetables that you can't cook, or scrub.
20:50 June 5, 2011 by hanskarl
I am still not giving up my membership in PETA (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals). I mean veggies grow in fecal contaminated soil. Buy local eat local.
21:45 June 5, 2011 by Simon_Kellett
margoelena> the problem is obviously the meat industry...

Hopefully "the authorities" are taking a more scientific approach, and will find the source so that lessons can be learnt etc.
22:20 June 5, 2011 by Wanderlustcuckoo
One biogas plant seems to have killed more people than the entire German nuclear industry combined.
22:26 June 5, 2011 by karl julius petermann
How about getting the cheap migrant labour who normally does this work, throughout the world i may add, to actually wash their hands after taking a dump. Its often as simple, or as complicated as that...As a rule of thumb, never buy ready shredded lettuce leaves or any reedy cut or shredded vegetables in sealed up plastic bags. There is an excellent book that has been recently published in the UK called "Not on the label", i dont know the author...it deals with this precise problem.....Or maybe we shouldnt be so lazy...It tastes crap anyway
23:07 June 5, 2011 by TxCharlie
This is EXACTLY why we need to be irritating all fresh vegetables, fruit, ground meat, chicken, eggs, and other products susceptible to E.Coli and Salmonella with either ionizing radiation or high-powered ultraviolet light, whichever is more appropriate in each case.

This irritation is of the type that does not make foods or other materials radioactive, because it doesn't use neutrons, which might cause certain elements in the food to become a radioactive isotope. The currently approved radiation such as Electrons, Gama rays , X-Rays, and Ultraviolet light simply do not do that, and at levels used do not significantly alter food chemistry.

It is junk science that tries to point out all the false problems that irradiation might cause, such as blaming a rash of pet poisonings on radiation, when it actually came from a poisonous fungus due to wet grain storage before the pet food was even irradiated - Because irradiation is at such a low level that it doesn't alter food chemistry appreciably, by the same token it cannot destroy chemical toxins that are already present. Doing so at higher levels would also destroy the good chemicals in food, such as flavor, proteins, and vitamins, and that's what scare tactics focus on - But they use the false premise that the radiation levels are extremely high. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Irradiation would nearly eliminate the danger of disease from food which is not grown , stored, or processed in the best of sanitary conditions. It is currently permissible on some foods, but commercial food producers are reluctant to use it, due to all the fear that the junk science against it has generated. Organic producers are least likely to use irratiation, even though careless organic growing methods can expose vegetables to uncured chicken and cow manure (there is no evidience that properly cured manure and compost has this issue, but in foreign countries we really don't know whether they use cured manure or raw sewage).

In addition, it would increase shelf life of produce and ground meat, and reduce food waste in our house significantly - Being only two of us, it is unfortunately not uncommon that we forget about that box of strawberries we bought a week ago, which is usually passed the stage where it becomes white and fuzzy. If they were irradiated, fungus spores near the surface from the field would be killed. The strawberries might over-ripen eventually (at a slower rate), but the fungus wouldn't take over and make them inedible so quickly.

Think of how fewer people would starve, if the United States increased the shelf life of all its foods, which would automatically reduce demand and make food cheaper and easier to store for poor countries too!

We already irradiate certain spices - Remember when spices used to get weevils , or get very stale-smelling in a year or two? That doesn't happen anymore.
23:09 June 5, 2011 by castalia
@arconi: 'THIS time Germany should definitely pay the damages.'

Nowadays Germany pays always for others, e.g. as the biggest payer in the EU. And it also significantly supports in that way countries such as Spain. It helps stabilizing the EURO with enormous efforts, paid with the money hard working people have created. Germany's healthy current economic situation might stem also from the fact that salaries in Germany grew significantly slower than elsewhere in Europe in the last decade, also something paid on the back of the working people in Germany.

Concerning a too early announcement of the potential source of the outbreak: I deem this is a trade-off between having the chance to safe lives vs. the damage an erroneous result might cause.
01:24 June 6, 2011 by jbaker
The E-Coli comes from animals. The vegetables in this story are portrayed as the evil monster. Keep the animals waste away from the vegetables and there is no story.

Animals produced on large farms and kept in close contact with one another is the problem.

Buy from small local farms and reduce the amount of meat you eat every week and this will put the large corporate animal farms out of business(hopefully).
06:26 June 6, 2011 by marimay
I am not surprised that "irradiation" is a solution for someone with TX in their name.
07:46 June 6, 2011 by aceroni

Using your arguments one might conclude that the salaries of the Germans have been paid by the citizens of the nations that are buying the German cars, since export is the biggest share of German's economy, and once the car sector goes down this nation's economy goes belly button. Also,the Euro's economic policies are mostly decided by the Germans through the ECB (conveniently located in Frankfurt) mainly for Germany's sake.

Anyway both arguments have nothing to do with the public declarations of the health minister from Hamburg. Affirming that fresh vegetables were most likely the cause is one thing, pointing the finger to a specific nation and product with having only a marginal evidence is another.
08:17 June 6, 2011 by harcourt
As castalia and aceroni have moved slightly "off topic" May I point out that since exporting cars and heavy machinery is paramount in Germanys economic success, the decision to scrap nuclear energy will deal a body blow to this lucrative industry. Back to pointing a finger at "the foreigner " over E-coli. Poor old Germany with all its desperate diplomatic and political efforts it only manages to shoot itself in the foot making enemies and not friends.
21:45 June 6, 2011 by XFYRCHIEF
@marimay - Huh? What does having TX in their "name" have to do with anything? Obviously you have an issue with irradiation. Are you one of those who ignore the validated scientific proof that irradiation poses no health risks, and buys into some pseudoscience that claims it will be the end of us all? And I have an "XF" in my "name"...
17:32 June 7, 2011 by wenddiver
Foes the Farm ship overseas?? I have several people I would to send some nice German Bean Sprouts.
Today's headlines
Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd