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EU drops warning over Spanish cucumbers

Published on 01/06/2011

The European Commission lifted Wednesday its warning to consumers over Spanish cucumbers that had been suspected of causing the outbreak of E.coli that has killed at least 17 people.

The commission said tests carried out on cucumbers in Germany and in Spain “did not confirm the presence of the specific serotype (O104), which is responsible for the outbreak affecting humans.”

“After this development, the European Commission has removed the alert notification on Spanish cucumbers from the Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed,” it said in a statement.

Spain’s health ministry confirmed it had been informed of the decision.

“The European Commission has lifted the health warning against Spanish cucumbers coming from Almeria that had been imposed last Thursday after the erroneous report of the German authorities,” it said in a statement.

Spain’s fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they have lost more than 200 million euros ($290 million) a week as 150,000 tonnes of produce went unsold in a Europe-wide reaction to the outbreak of E.coli that has killed 16 people in Germany and one in Sweden.

Madrid has demanded European Union compensation for Spain and other producer countries hit by the crisis.

The health ministry reiterated that Spain was considering legal action against the authorities in the northern German city of Hamburg that blamed Spanish cucumbers for the E.coli.

Hamburg health authorities admitted Tuesday that tests on two suspect Spanish cucumbers showed they did not carry the bacteria strain responsible.

The Spanish statement said Health Minister Leire Pajin also told European Union health commissioner John Dalli by telephone Wednesday “that all the analyses carried out in Spain on samples from production in Almeria had been negative.

“The Spanish food safety agency AESAN has provided these results to European authorities, who have decided to withdraw the alert against Spanish products,” the statement said.

The Spanish samples from suspect batches were sent to a laboratory in the northwest region of Galicia for testing.

The European Commission’s decision “is a very important step to restore normalcy as soon as possible to the Spanish agricultural sector,” the health ministry said.

Hamburg authorities say they are still searching for the source of the outbreak.

Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli can result in full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a disease that causes bloody diarrhoea and serious liver damage and which can result in death.

Of 9.4 million tonnes of Spanish fruit and vegetables exported in 2010, the biggest share, 24 percent, went to Germany, according to the Spanish producers’ federation FEPEX.

The Spanish government says there have been no infections in Spain and argued that there is no evidence the bacteria come from the cucumbers’ origin in Spain rather than in later handling elsewhere.

A 40-year-old man who recently returned from Germany was in intensive care in northern San Sebastian with a possible E.coli infection, the Donostia hospital said this week. Tests so far have been inconclusive.