Germany finds first sprout contamination

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Germany Friday said it had found the first direct evidence of killer bacteria in sprouts grown on a north German farm believed to be responsible for contamination that left 31 dead and 3,000 ill.

The discovery was made in a packet of vegetable sprouts in the garbage can of two sick people living in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the regional consumer affairs ministry announced.

This is "the first time an unbroken chain of evidence" has been found linking the bacteria to the farm, the ministry said.

The farm, in the Lower Saxony village of Bienenbuettel, has been ordered closed and all its products recalled.

The tests carried out by health institutes confirmed the presence of the virulent E. coli bacteria strain EHEC-0104 responsible for the current outbreak, the ministry added.

Two of three members of the family, living in Rhein-Sieg district, fell sick in mid-May.

Earlier officials said they were convinced that vegetable sprouts were to blame for the contamination, adding that the small organic farm in Lower Saxony, which first came under suspicion at the weekend, was most likely the source.

North Rhine-Westphalia consumer affairs minister Johannes Remmel welcomed the discovery, but said there remained "a small element of uncertainty" as the bacteria was found in an open packet of sprouts rather than an unopened one which would then have been uncontaminated by the garbage can.

The government Friday lifted its earlier warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers which had dealt a stinging blow to farmers at the peak of the fresh produce season in Europe.

© 2011 AFP

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