Egyptian fenugreek prime suspect in E. coli deaths

5th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A batch of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 is suspected to be behind E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France that have left 48 people dead, the European Food Safety Agency said Tuesday.

An EFSA task force set up to track the possible source of the disease said in a statement that it recommended in consequence that "all efforts be made to prevent any consumer exposure to the suspect seeds".

EFSA has asked the European Commission to act to prevent new contaminations, with a decision expected Tuesday to withdraw seeds from a 15-tonne batch imported in 2009 to Germany, and then distributed elsewhere, an EU source said.

EFSA said "that one lot of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt and used to produce sprouts is the most likely common link between the two outbreaks."

"However, it cannot be excluded that other lots of fenugreek imported from Egypt during the period 2009-2011 may be implicated," it added.

EFSA recommended "that forward tracing be carried out in all countries which may have received seeds from the concerned lots."

It also advised consumers against growing sprouts for their own consumption or eating sprouts or sprouted seeds unless cooked thoroughly.

Egypt's ministry of agriculture last week denied fenugreek seeds sold to Europe had caused the virulent strain of enterohaemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC), with the head of its Central Administration of Agricultural Quarantine, Ali Suleiman, dubbing first reports as "completely untrue."

He said the Egyptian company that exported the seeds in 2009 had said it shipped the fenugreek to Holland and not to Germany, Britain or France.

The World Health Organisation has said 4,050 infections have been confirmed in 14 European countries, the United States and Canada -- more than 3,900 of them in Germany.

All but two of the fatalities have so far been in Germany, apart from one case in the United States and a woman who died in Sweden shortly after returning from a visit to Germany.

Seven people were infected in France with E.coli after eating vegetable sprouts at a leisure centre near Bordeaux.

© 2011 AFP

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