June 10, 2011

Germany Still Convinced Sprouts Are Cause Of E. Coli Outbreak

Despite some recent reports to the contrary, German officials remain convinced that bean sprouts or similar shoots from an organic farm in the northern German state of Lower Saxony are responsible for a recent, deadly outbreak of E. coli in Europe, Reuters is reporting.

Thirty-one people have died from the food-borne bacterial outbreak so far and hundreds have been made ill. Citing a study of patients and the food they ate. "It's the bean sprouts," said Reinhard Burger, head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's center for disease control.

No samples of bean sprouts or other shoots had tested positive yet for the bacteria, Burger told a news conference that. However, the study of food consumed in restaurants and canteens by E. coli patients nevertheless identified contaminated bean sprouts or similar foods as the source.

"All the registered cases in this study had consumed these bean sprouts," Burger explained. "The test method made it possible in an epidemiological way to isolate the source of the outbreak with a high probability to the consumption of bean sprouts."

Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann has said alfalfa, mung bean, radish and arugula sprouts from the farm near the small town of Bienenbuettel might all be linked to the outbreak.

"The chain of evidence pointing to bean sprouts is flawless. For us, the source of the outbreak is definitely the farm in Bienenbuettel," Lindemann told the Associated press (AP) on Friday. The farm has been shut down and is no longer delivering vegetables to market.

After much investigation, a breakthrough came when researchers from three institutes linked various clusters of patients who had fallen sick to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had served produce from the organic farm in Bienenbuettel.

"It was like a crime thriller where you have to find the bad guy," said Helmut Tschiersky-Schoeneburg of the consumer protection agency.

Andreas Hensel, head of the risk assessment agency explained, "They even studied the menus, the ingredients, looked at bills and took pictures of the different meals, which they then showed to those who had fallen ill."

Burger explained that while all of the sprouts have either been consumed or thrown away by now, warned that the crisis is ongoing and people should still not consume sprouts. Authorities, however, were lifting the warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

"Lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers should be eaten again "” it is all healthy produce," Hensel said.

The official toll of the affected by Friday has been raised to 31 dead "” 30 in Germany and one in Sweden "” with 2,988 people sickened, 759 of whom are suffering from a serious complication that can cause kidney failure.

The World Health Organization says 97 others have fallen sick in 12 other European countries, as well as three in the United States.

It was not clear whether the epidemic is waning or whether consumers were just successfully shunning tainted vegetables but the number of new E. coli cases has been dropping in recent days.