June 6, 2011

Bean Sprouts May Not Be Source Of E. Coli Outbreak

Officials from the state of Lower Saxony said on Monday that initial tests conducted on sprouts from a north German farm probed as a possible source for an E. coli outbreak have been negative.

The state's agriculture ministry said tests conducted on 23 of 40 samples indicated they were free of the E. coli bacteria responsible for 22 deaths.

The Lower Saxony state agriculture ministry said the search for the source of the outbreak is proving very difficult.

The manager of the farm said he could not understand how it could be the source of an infection that is usually transmitted through feces, or food or water contaminated with fecal bacteria.

The Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strain found during this outbreak that it is known to be able to lurk in cows' intestines.

"I can't understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together," Klaus Verbeck told the regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

"The salad sprouts are grown only from seeds and water, and they aren't fertilized at all. There aren't any animal fertilizers used in other areas on the farm either."

The relief in Germany that investigators had found a possible source of the killer bacteria was tempered by the cautious tone of the ministry statement, and by reports of mounting losses for vegetable farmers and retailers across Europe caused by three weeks of panic.

The European Commission said it would hold a special meeting of EU farm ministers in Luxembourg Tuesday