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E. coli in France Linked to Deadly German Outbreak

The outbreak of E. coli affecting more than a dozen victims in Bordeaux, France is now almost conclusively linked to the ongoing epidemic of E. coli O104:H4 in Germany that has claimed the lives of 48 Europeans so far.

Doctors say they are 99 percent sure that the French outbreak, which appears to have plateaued at 13 victims, is related to the massive outbreak attributed to German-grown sprouts, French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand announced Monday.

This latest outbreak is thought to have come from sprouts served at a community event in Bègles as a garnish for a variety of dishes. Eight of the victims reported attending the event.

Experts are working to determine the source of contamination.  The sprouts in question were grown in France, but the seeds were purchased from a UK company, Thompson & Morgan, which says the seeds came from an Italian supplier.

So far it is unclear whether the bacteria may have originated on the seeds themselves, or could have contaminated the sprouts during the growing process from irrigation water or human contact.

Investigators are trying to determine whether sprouts from the two outbreaks may have come from common seed suppliers, according to the World Health Organization.

France has put a ban on the sale of fenugreek, arugula and mustard seeds from the British company.  Ireland and England have warned consumers not to eat raw sprouts, although no cases have been reported in the United Kingdom.

In Germany, the number of outbreak victims has risen to 4,800 but the rate of new cases is declining significantly, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Nevertheless, the still-rising count of infections shows that the bacteria’s danger has not yet passed.

An elementary  school in the Western province of Altenbeken shut down Tuesday after several students came down with E. coli O104:H4 infections. The school plans to remain closed for a week – the approximate incubation period for the disease, to ensure the disease does not spread any further.

It is unclear at this time whether or not the students’ infections were secondary, i.e. contracted from other people, or whether they were sickened by food they ate.

Reparations for Victims

Whether or not the outbreak’s origin is eventually determined, experts say, patients will most likely be able to seek reparations from companies that sold contaminated product, Business Insurance reported yesterday.

“It may be that the source is not established with a great deal of certainty, but it could be credible enough to establish liability,” said Mike Noonan, head of strategic claims management at QBE Operations, a London-based insurance group.

Farmers who experienced a drop in sales after cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes were originally named as suspects in the outbreak may not receive compensation for their losses, according to Business Insurance.

Spanish farmers lost over 200 million dollars per week when cucumbers from southern Spain were announced to be the source of the O104 bacteria, a fact that later proved false but continued to cause consumers to shy away from the country’s produce.

So far, the European Commission has agreed to pay European growers $300 million in compensation for their profit losses, but they are unlikely to be able to reclaim all damages, especially if the outbreak source is not proven definitively.

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Thanks of including the discussion of the partial indemnification of farmers costs under your heading, “Reparations for Victims” as they, like those sickened, were hurt through no fault of their own. Rather, in the case of Spanish farmers growing cucumbers, the farmers were hurt by an error made by the German food safety authorities.
    How bad is the problem? According to “Copa-Cogeca, a farm lobby group located in Brussels,…as much as 80 percent of vegetables are being destroyed in some areas because there is no market for them [and] cucumbers slumped to 5 cents a unit from a five-year average of 21 cents, while tomatoes now cost 13 cents a kilogram (2.2 pounds), compared with an average of 60 cents.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/france-backs-farm-compensation-plan-for-producers-hurt-by-e-coli-outbreak.html).
    Unfortunately, you have wrongly stated “the European Commission has agreed to pay European growers $300 million in compensation for their profit losses.” Bill Marler was closer to the truth, but misleading, when he wrote, “The aid package will be used to compensate European producers of cucumbers, lettuces, tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, for up to half the value of goods withdrawn from the market due to a lack of consumer demand, based on a reference price.” (http://www.marlerblog.com/lawyer-oped/e-coli-outbreak—2-year-old-dies-and-farmers-get-304-million/)
    On 6-7-11, Bloomberg reported, “The EU would offer to pay farmers 30 percent of the average price in June for the past four years for cucumbers, tomatoes and salads that are going unsold because of the crisis, European Commission spokesman Roger Waite had said earlier today. ‘We’ll be offering to buy, or pay for the withdrawal, of products that can’t be sold,’ Waite said.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/eu-may-add-to-proposed-220-million-aid-for-farmers-after-e-coli-outbreak.html)
    On 6-8-11, Deutsche Well reported, “’I have decided to raise the level of compensation from 30 percent to 50 percent of the reference prices for the products affected for all producers,’ European Union agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos said.” (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15141284,00.html)
    Fifty percent of the average price for the cucumber, or other vegetable, during the same month in the previous 4 years for the withdrawal of products that can’t be sold at substantially depressed prices means that the farmers will only be partially indemnified for their losses—NOT PROFITS—for a portion of their harvest. Furthermore, as Copa-Cogeca also estimated in the first article cited above, “EU food producers are losing as much as 400 million euros a week from the drop in demand;” the 210 million euros set aside will quickly be exhausted.
    Are these farmers “lucky” as Bill Marler would have us believe in his blog cited above? Hardly. And, as occurred after the 2006 spinach salmonella outbreak, the negative financial impact on farmers may continue for months or even years.

  • Doc Mudd

    When excitedly counting anticipated reparations money don’t forget the organic Spanish cucumbers in question were proven contaminated with E. coli. It just didn’t happen to be the exact genetic strain from the food poisoning victims.
    http://www.euronews.net/2011/05/27/german-e-coli-linked-to-spanish-cucumbers/
    The contaminated organic cukes were poised to eventually initiate their own food poisoning outbreak if the organic sprouts hadn’t been faster on the draw…this time.
    So, how much reparation money is properly due the purveyors of the nasty organic Spanish cukes; full value, partial value…or maybe fine the bejeezus out of them for foisting fecal contaminated organic vegetables on an innocent trusting public?

  • “Lucky” – I was just trying – apparently badly – to put the needs of farmers in perspective to the nearly 50 deaths, 4,000 illnesses (some 800 with HUS). True, farmers are impacted “as occurred after the 2006 spinach salmonella outbreak, the negative financial impact on farmers may continue for months or even years.” But 5 people lost their lives (CDC missed two) and some 30 people suffered HUS, and many will require life time monitoring with some needed kidney transplants – they are not “lucky.”

  • Harry Hamil

    Thanks of including the discussion of the partial indemnification of farmers costs under your heading, “Reparations for Victims” as they, like those sickened, were hurt through no fault of their own. Rather, in the case of Spanish farmers growing cucumbers, the farmers were hurt by an error made by the German food safety authorities.
    How bad is the problem? According to “Copa-Cogeca, a farm lobby group located in Brussels,…as much as 80 percent of vegetables are being destroyed in some areas because there is no market for them [and] cucumbers slumped to 5 cents a unit from a five-year average of 21 cents, while tomatoes now cost 13 cents a kilogram (2.2 pounds), compared with an average of 60 cents.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/france-backs-farm-compensation-plan-for-producers-hurt-by-e-coli-outbreak.html).
    Unfortunately, you have wrongly stated “the European Commission has agreed to pay European growers $300 million in compensation for their profit losses.” Bill Marler was closer to the truth, but misleading, when he wrote, “The aid package will be used to compensate European producers of cucumbers, lettuces, tomatoes, courgettes and peppers, for up to half the value of goods withdrawn from the market due to a lack of consumer demand, based on a reference price.” (http://www.marlerblog.com/lawyer-oped/e-coli-outbreak—2-year-old-dies-and-farmers-get-304-million/)
    On 6-7-11, Bloomberg reported, “The EU would offer to pay farmers 30 percent of the average price in June for the past four years for cucumbers, tomatoes and salads that are going unsold because of the crisis, European Commission spokesman Roger Waite had said earlier today. ‘We’ll be offering to buy, or pay for the withdrawal, of products that can’t be sold,’ Waite said.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/eu-may-add-to-proposed-220-million-aid-for-farmers-after-e-coli-outbreak.html)
    On 6-8-11, Deutsche Well reported, “’I have decided to raise the level of compensation from 30 percent to 50 percent of the reference prices for the products affected for all producers,’ European Union agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos said.” (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15141284,00.html)
    Fifty percent of the average price for the cucumber, or other vegetable, during the same month in the previous 4 years for the withdrawal of products that can’t be sold at substantially depressed prices means that the farmers will only be partially indemnified for their losses—NOT PROFITS—for a portion of their harvest. Furthermore, as Copa-Cogeca also estimated in the first article cited above, “EU food producers are losing as much as 400 million euros a week from the drop in demand;” the 210 million euros set aside will quickly be exhausted.
    Are these farmers “lucky” as Bill Marler would have us believe in his blog cited above? Hardly. And, as occurred after the 2006 spinach salmonella outbreak, the negative financial impact on farmers may continue for months or even years.

  • hhamil

    Bill,
    NO ONE HAS SAID THOSE SICKENED AND KILLED WERE “LUCKY.” ONLY YOU HAVE USED THAT CHARACTERIZATION IN THIS INCIDENT.
    You continue to play the rhetorical (and psychological) game of “Yes…but” just as so many journalists do. Your “but” is not a conjunction. Rather, it announces, “Forget what I just wrote/said. What comes next is what is actually important.”
    Try this characterization of what you wrote on for size: “Bill Marler intended ‘to put the needs of farmers in perspective to the nearly 50 deaths, 4,000 illnesses (some 800 with HUS)’ but he demonstrated his penchant for demonizing other innocents.” What will most people take away from that sentence, Bill? I know that I would recall the accusation not what you intended
    What occurred in Germany was tragic in many areas, on many levels.
    The appropriate conjunction for describing what happened is “and.” It seems to me that you used “but” because you are so completely wrapped up in being an advocate for those injured in only one part of the tragedy.
    Your blogs have demonized German regulators, farmers and a seed company executive when the story of what happened is far from complete. Only ONE vector has been found despite 3 epidemiological studies each showing over 60% of those questioned had no memory of eating sprouts. Nor have they found an ultimate source(s) of the contamination.
    Also, the pathogen involved was one that no regulator, expert, producer and, thus, any Hazard Analysis Risk Based Preventive Control (HARPC) plan would have regarded as a hazard that needed to be guarded against. So, Bill, your regulatory solution (sections 103 and 105 of the FSMA) would NOT have stopped the outbreak.
    In addition, as pointed out in Food Safety News—which you publish—last week (“Germany’s E. coli Outbreak: A Global Lesson” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/06/germanys-e-coli-outbreak-a-global-lesson/), “German authorities said Friday that a catering company employee who was infected with the outbreak strain but initially asymptomatic may have transmitted the bacteria to about 20 other people through food she handled.” Elsewhere in Food Safety News, it has been pointed out that the usual hosts for O104:H4 are humans so what may have occurred is an outbreak just like occurs with noroviruses.
    I find much of what you write as enlightening as that of “Doc Mudd.” It tells me more about you than it does the topic.
    I congratulate Food Safety News for allowing me to express this critique about what you wrote.
    You may have the last word.

  • dangermaus

    Don’t underestimate how bad the financial harm is… Try to think about it from the perspective of the cuke farmers and the people that got sick *not that I’ve heard of any one person that was both sickened and lost crop sales…
    In a country with social medicine, if you’re a farmer with no skills that’d directly help get you a job outside of farming, would it be worse to loose your farm, or lose a kidney? I’m thinking most would rather loose the kidney, and I’m sure that some would even go farther than that.
    It’s obviously impossible to tell what financial condition the various farmers’ businesses are in – I’m sure an ideal business model for a farm would allow for one “bad” season when possible. Obviously everyone would like for this not to have happened at all, but…

  • Doc Mudd

    How many innocent trusting consumers should have to give up a kidney (along with their grocery money) so unskilled organic farmers can keep raking in the cash?
    None, I think.
    Of course, the organic farmers value money over your kidneys or mine – it’s all about the money (heh, isn’t that one of the big ugly accusations foisted to smear successful modern agriculture and our safe, abundant, affordable conventional food system?).

  • Harry Hamil

    Bill,
    NO ONE HAS SAID THOSE SICKENED AND KILLED WERE “LUCKY.” ONLY YOU HAVE USED THAT CHARACTERIZATION IN THIS INCIDENT.
    You continue to play the rhetorical (and psychological) game of “Yes…but” just as so many journalists do. Your “but” is not a conjunction. Rather, it announces, “Forget what I just wrote/said. What comes next is what is actually important.”
    Try this characterization of what you wrote on for size: “Bill Marler intended ‘to put the needs of farmers in perspective to the nearly 50 deaths, 4,000 illnesses (some 800 with HUS)’ but he demonstrated his penchant for demonizing other innocents.” What will most people take away from that sentence, Bill? I know that I would recall the accusation not what you intended
    What occurred in Germany was tragic in many areas, on many levels.
    The appropriate conjunction for describing what happened is “and.” It seems to me that you used “but” because you are so completely wrapped up in being an advocate for those injured in only one part of the tragedy.
    Your blogs have demonized German regulators, farmers and a seed company executive when the story of what happened is far from complete. Only ONE vector has been found despite 3 epidemiological studies each showing over 60% of those questioned had no memory of eating sprouts. Nor have they found an ultimate source(s) of the contamination.
    Also, the pathogen involved was one that no regulator, expert, producer and, thus, any Hazard Analysis Risk Based Preventive Control (HARPC) plan would have regarded as a hazard that needed to be guarded against. So, Bill, your regulatory solution (sections 103 and 105 of the FSMA) would NOT have stopped the outbreak.
    In addition, as pointed out in Food Safety News—which you publish—last week (“Germany’s E. coli Outbreak: A Global Lesson” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/06/germanys-e-coli-outbreak-a-global-lesson/), “German authorities said Friday that a catering company employee who was infected with the outbreak strain but initially asymptomatic may have transmitted the bacteria to about 20 other people through food she handled.” Elsewhere in Food Safety News, it has been pointed out that the usual hosts for O104:H4 are humans so what may have occurred is an outbreak just like occurs with noroviruses.
    I find much of what you write as enlightening as that of “Doc Mudd.” It tells me more about you than it does the topic.
    I congratulate Food Safety News for allowing me to express this critique about what you wrote.
    You may have the last word.

  • mrothschild

    Harry: Here’s the RKI description of one of the epidemiological studies:
    To ascertain the consumption of raw fruit and vegetables by patients and controls more objectively and less dependently on memory, RKI used the following approach in the “recipe-based restaurant cohort study”: Five groups (travel groups, clubs, etc) that comprised a total of 112 participants and included 19 individuals who acquired EHEC infection were questioned regarding the foods they consumed after eating in a common restaurant. Additionally, the menus ordered by the participants were identified by means of order lists and meal receipts. The restaurant kitchen was questioned in detail regarding the preparation and the type and quantity of ingredients in each menu ordered by any of the study participants. Furthermore, available photographs taken by travel group members were analysed to confirm which food items, including toppings, were seen on the plates. The data thus gathered was analysed in a cohort approach that permits the retrospective estimation of the relative risk of infection for the restaurant customers. Results of this analysis showed that customers who ate sprouts had an 8.6-fold increased risk (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.5-∞) of EHEC/HUS illness compared to those who did not. This study also revealed that 100% of those who contracted the illness had eaten sprouts.

  • Mary Rothschild

    Harry: Here’s the RKI description of one of the epidemiological studies:
    To ascertain the consumption of raw fruit and vegetables by patients and controls more objectively and less dependently on memory, RKI used the following approach in the “recipe-based restaurant cohort study”: Five groups (travel groups, clubs, etc) that comprised a total of 112 participants and included 19 individuals who acquired EHEC infection were questioned regarding the foods they consumed after eating in a common restaurant. Additionally, the menus ordered by the participants were identified by means of order lists and meal receipts. The restaurant kitchen was questioned in detail regarding the preparation and the type and quantity of ingredients in each menu ordered by any of the study participants. Furthermore, available photographs taken by travel group members were analysed to confirm which food items, including toppings, were seen on the plates. The data thus gathered was analysed in a cohort approach that permits the retrospective estimation of the relative risk of infection for the restaurant customers. Results of this analysis showed that customers who ate sprouts had an 8.6-fold increased risk (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.5-∞) of EHEC/HUS illness compared to those who did not. This study also revealed that 100% of those who contracted the illness had eaten sprouts.