July 15, 2024

Germany Concludes E. Coli Tainted Bean Sprouts

BERLIN — After days of confusion, German authorities finally concluded on Friday that an E. coli infection, which has claimed at least 29 lives, unsettled the nation and thrown European agriculture into disarray, had been caused by contaminated bean sprouts and not, as first was feared, by other produce.

But, at a news conference here, Reinhard Burger, the head of the Robert Koch Institute — the country’s disease control agency — said the outbreak was “not yet over” because “there will be new cases coming up.”

Doubts about the cause of the illness have blossomed with the authorities first saying the infection came from imported Spanish cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. After initially warning consumers not to eat those products, the authorities said last weekend that contaminated bean sprouts were the source.

But tests carried out on bean sprout samples produced only negative results. At the news conference on Friday, Mr. Burger said investigations centering on interviews with patients and even the chefs at restaurants where they had eaten showed that people who had consumed bean sprouts were nine times more likely to become infected than those who had not.

No harmful bacteria had been found in any samples, he said. But from the pattern of the outbreak, he added, “It was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts.”

   On Friday, Andreas Hensel, the head of Germany’s Risk Assessment Agency, said at the same news conference that authorities were no longer urging consumers to avoid cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. Sprouts should still be avoided, he said.

State authorities in Lower Saxony said they had sealed off the likely source of the suspect sprouts — a farm growing organic crops in Bienenbüttel, southeast of Hamburg — and ordered its operators to suspend sales of any other products. Gert Lindemann, the state agriculture minister, said the owners of the farm had already pledged not to sell any produce after their facility came under suspicion last Sunday.

The outbreak has been particularly virulent because, the German authorities say, it has led to a potentially lethal complication that causes kidney failure and neurological damage. Almost 3,000 people have become sickened with E. coli and more than 700 of them suffered complications. In addition to 29 fatal cases in Germany, a death was reported in Sweden.

The announcement followed remarks late Thursday by the federal health minister, Daniel Bahr, who said there was “cause for justifiable optimism” that the outbreak was close to ending.

The outbreak spread alarm across Europe, with Spanish farmers demanding compensation after demand for their crops plummeted and farmers in Germany and other European countries saying the market for cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes was so low that they were forced to dump tons of unsold produce.

In response to the spread of E. coli, Russia banned all imports of vegetables from Europe, causing an outcry among European farmers that one of its biggest markets had been closed down.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3db6173029ebb695cdcdea0627b18465

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