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Nearly 4,180 Sickened in E. coli O104:H4 Outbreak

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported Monday that the European toll in the outbreak of E. coli O104:H4 in Germany and France linked to sprouts had risen to 4,173 illnesses and 49 deaths. 

Those numbers include 892 hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cases, according to ECDC.

A single lot of fenugreek seeds — lot number 48088 — from an Egyptian exporter appears to be the common link between the German and French outbreaks, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported Tuesday, even though microbiological tests carried out on the seeds have thus far been negative.

Still, those test results “cannot be interpreted as proof that a batch is not contaminated” with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the EFSA report stated. Given that other lots may be implicated, and because exposure to a small quantity of the seeds can have a “severe health impact,” the food-safety authority is recommending that all lots of fenugreek from the identified (but unnamed) exporter should be considered suspect.

Since its last July 1 update, the health authority said Germany had reported no additional cases of HUS, but 48 additional non-HUS E. coli infections.

In the United States, five confirmed cases and one suspect case of E. coli O104:H4 infections have been identified. Five of the six case patients had recently traveled to Germany, where they were likely exposed. The sixth person did not travel to German but had close contact with someone who did.

Arizona has reported one death – a person who had HUS and also had recently visited Germany. But that case has not yet been confirmed to be E. coli O104:H4.

Meanwhile, the British company Thompson & Morgan said it is awaiting the results of lab tests on three kinds of its sprouting seeds – organic fenugreek, white mustard and rocket (arugula). It confirmed that its supplier had obtained organic fenugreek sprouting seed from Egypt, and that Thompson & Morgan in turn supplied seeds to a French garden center.

That garden center was the source of the seeds used to grow sprouts served at a school event in the town of Bègles, where many of those sickened reported eating various cold soups garnished with sprouts.

© Food Safety News
  • ann bunting

    ` on the seed packet was ok as it was use by the end of August 2011, packeted in 2010.
    I would be grateful if you could give me this information.
    Thanks

  • Mike Mychajlonka, Ph. D.

    The situation seems strange, a single lot of seed considered ann infective source while attempts to demonstrate the infective agent are negative. What is the analytical sensitivity at which the testing labs are looking for the contaminant. On a more general level and in light of the “strangeness” of the results thus far, is there any indication that the general public are going to change their “FrankenFood” attitude towards the irradiation of food as a safety measure (assuming, of course, that a seed sufficiently sanitized by irradiation is still able to germinate).