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Germany unsure about Spanish cucumbers’ role in E. coli case

German authorities on Tuesday said they were unsure whether Spanish cucumbers caused the massive outbreak of a deadly bacterial infection that has left at least 16 dead.

“As before the source remains unidentified,” the chief health official in the northern city of Hamburg, Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks, told a news conference.

Tests carried out on two cucumbers imported from Spain confirmed the presence of a potentially deadly pathogen, but not the strain which has infected hundreds of people, she said.

She added that two more cucumbers were still undergoing analysis.

“Out of four cucumbers on which we have been able to confirm the presence of the EHEC pathogen, we have been able to establish — as far as two of them are concerned — that they carry the EHEC pathogen, but not the strain responsible for the current difficult developments,” Pruefer-Storcks said.

Pruefer-Storcks defended last week’s decision to link the outbreak to Spanish cucumbers.

“Regardless of the result of the two remaining tests, it was right to make public the results of our investigation as the contamination could very well cause EHEC,” she said.

“It would have been irresponsible with this number of ill people to keep quiet about a well-grounded suspicion. Protecting people’s lives is more important than economic interests,” she added.

Several hundred people have taken ill, mostly in northern Germany, since the outbreak was first reported more than two weeks ago.

German officials are convinced that raw vegetables are responsible for the outbreak of the killer strain of E. coli and Hamburg authorities were the first to say that cucumbers imported from Spain were the likely cause of contamination.

But Spain has angrily rejected blame for the outbreak and slammed Germany’s handling of the crisis, saying it was costing the Spanish agriculture industry more than 200 million euros ($288 million) a week in lost sales.