July 14, 2024

A Search Is Under Way for Tainted Sprout Seeds

In a new report, a large shipment of organic Egyptian fenugreek seeds was distributed to dozens of companies in at least 12 European countries, the European Food Safety Authority said on Tuesday. Investigators were still trying to determine if additional countries had received some of the seeds.

“The trace forward operation is becoming complex and widespread and may take weeks,” the report said, referring to efforts to locate the seed shipments.

Investigators are now focusing on a single shipment of more than 16 tons of Egyptian fenugreek seeds that was received by a German importer in December 2009, according to the report.

Authorities say that sprouts grown from the seed, often used in salads, were responsible for two major outbreaks of a rare strain of E. coli bacteria, known as O104:H4.

The first outbreak, which began in Germany in May, has caused 49 deaths and more than 4,100 illnesses. A second outbreak in June sickened about 16 people in the Bordeaux area of France.

The new report showed that only a fraction of the suspect shipment, about 165 pounds, was sold to the German sprout grower whose sprout mixes authorities think caused the devastating outbreak there.

About 880 pounds were sent to a British company linked to the illnesses in France. The company, previously identified as Thompson Morgan, repackaged the seeds into 50-gram packets and sold them through a French garden supply chain.

Investigators are still scrambling to figure out where the rest of the seeds were sent.

The report said that more than 11 tons of the seeds were sold to a German distributor that resold them to 54 companies in Germany and 16 companies in 11 other European countries.

The report said the original importer also sold some seeds to several companies in Germany, one in Austria and one in Spain.

The report said that an unknown quantity of the seeds was still in company supply chains, although much of it may already have been used.

The German importer received three other shipments of fenugreek seeds from the same Egyptian supplier since 2008. A previous report said that one of those shipments, in 2010, was suspected as a source of the German outbreak, but the 2009 shipment alone is now thought to be the cause of both outbreaks.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/06/business/06seeds.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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