Last week the European Commission lifted import restrictions on fresh and chilled podded peas and green beans and other fresh produce from Egypt. The ban had been an emergency action imposed in July, after imported Egyptian fenugreek seeds were blamed for the outbreak of E. coli O104:H4 linked to sprouts in Germany and France.
But while fresh peas and beans got a green light, the temporary ban on Egyptian seeds and sprouts, scheduled to expire Oct. 31, will be extended until the end of March, following an “unsatisfactory audit” of seed producers in Egypt, the EC has decided.
The extended ban involves arugula sprouts, leguminous vegetable sprouts (fresh or chilled), soy bean sprouts, dried (shelled) leguminous vegetables, fenugreek seeds, soy beans and mustard seeds.
Details of the audit, which was conducted by the EC’s Food & Veterinary Office from Aug. 21-25, are still under review, but will be published soon, the EC said in a statement.
Briefly, the EC said the audit showed that measures taken by the Egyptian authorities to address shortcomings in the production of seeds that may be sprouted for human consumption were not sufficient “to tackle the identified risks.”
Those shortcomings were not seen in the growing and processing sites for fresh peas and beans, the EC said, therefore those vegetables are no longer considered a food safety risk.
The European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health endorsed the extension of the seed and sprout ban on Monday.
Meanwhile, the European Commission awaits a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the risk posed by Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) and other pathogenic bacteria in seeds and sprouts, shoots and cress derived from seeds. EFSA is expected to deliver that opinion by the end of this month.