Source of May E. Coli Outbreak Pinpointed

Egyptian sprout seeds now blamed in deadly German E. Coli outbreak

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) After weeks of wrongly fingering the source of the deadly German E. coli, the European Food Safety Authority has confirmed in a report that one lot of contaminated fenugreek seeds from Egypt likely caused the May outbreak that sickened thousands.

The number of European countries that received part of the infected lot of sprout seeds is larger than originally suspected and includes Spain, Britain and Austria, the Associated Press reported.

"Cook sprouts thoroughly before eating them, especially in Europe."

The European Union has banned the import of the fenugreek seeds until Oct. 31, and asked one unidentified Egyptian exporter to destroy seeds received between 2009 and 2011. The tainted seeds already have been widely distributed in Europe, and it may be difficult for officials to identify them because the concentration of bacteria may be too miniscule to detect.

The seeds were imported to a large German distributor, then sold to 70 different companies including 54 in Germany, which was at the center of the E. Coli outbreak.

More than 4,000 in Germany were sickened with E. coli beginning in late May. More than 850 of those infected developed a serious complication that could lead to kidney failure. In total 51 people have died with 49 of those deaths occurring in Germany.

Though banned by the EU, the sprout seeds, commonly used as an herb, remain for sale on the market. The fenugreek seeds were sold in mixed spice packages with lentil seeds in Germany. The seeds are frequently sold dried where the E. coli bacteria could survive for years in batches that are contaminated.

The possibility that other lots also were contaminated has not been ruled out.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 6, 2011
Last Updated:
July 7, 2011