German E. coli link seen in French seed sprouts

LONDON: Dutch and British health officials advised people to avoid raw sprouts and seeds Monday after scientists linked an outbreak of E. coli in France to a highly toxic one in Germany that has killed 43 people.

A British health safety expert said it was very unlikely to be pure coincidence that sprouted salad seeds have been fingered as the probable source of both outbreaks.

Seven people in Bordeaux were hospitalized Monday, French authorities said, with one in intensive care, after being infected by the E. coli bacteria.

Another patient had left intensive care and been moved to a department specializing in kidney disorders, while the condition of a 78-year-old woman had improved to stable from serious.

French authorities say at least two of those affected have been found to have the same rare strain of the infection that has infected thousands in Germany.

“We’ve got a new emergent infection that has rarely been described before and it’s cropped up twice in the same food product,” said Paul Hunter, an E. coli expert and professor of public health at Britain’s University of East Anglia. “That cannot be coincidence.”

Britain’s Food Standards Agency said sprouted seeds such as alfalfa, mung beans, otherwise known as beansprouts and fenugreek should only be eaten if they have been cooked thoroughly “until steaming hot throughout.”

“They should not be eaten raw,” it said in a statement.

Initial investigations into the outbreak of E. coli in France have suggested a possible link to sprouting seeds from a British company, Thompson & Morgan. The firm has said it is cooperating with investigations but it does not believe its seeds are the cause of the French outbreak.

Health authorities in Germany have linked the epidemic there to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots from a German organic farm sold to consumers and restaurants for eating in salads.

Latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which monitors disease in the region, show that at least 3,688 people have been infected in Germany and a scattering of cases across Europe linked to the same outbreak.

“Although this has not been proven, it’s almost certainly going to be the case that seeds in both the French and German outbreaks were probably contaminated at the same place – either where the seeds were grown or very soon afterward,” said Hunter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2011, on page 11.




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