Tests Contradict Early Suspicion About German Sprouts As E. Coli Source

Originally published on June 6, 2011 11:07 am

Sprouts from an organic farm in Northern Germany, thought to be a source of the Escherichia coli outbreak sweeping the country, may not be to blame after all.

Finished tests of 23 samples (out of 40 taken) from a farm located between Hannover and Hamburg failed to detect the outbreak strain of bacteria, officials in the German state of Lower Saxony said. Additional tests are under way.

A virulent Escherichia coli strain has so far killed 22 people and made 2,333 people sick, according to the latest figures from the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm.

Over the weekend, suspicions rose that contaminated sprouts could be spreading the bacteria. Even so, as Bloomberg News reported, Lower Saxony's agriculture minister Gert Lindemann said the sprouts alone couldn't explain the outbreak.

With Germans worried about an infection threat from vegetables, many restaurants are dropping cucumbers, lettuce and other uncooked produce from their menus, the Wall Street Journal reports. But one German diner who thinks the threat is being hyped told the paper he hasn't forsaken raw vegetables. "I think it's a new kind of bungee jumping—just eat a salad," he said.

Sprouts have been linked to a bunch of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. In the last 15 years, sprouts have been linked to more than 30 outbreaks in this country alone.

Why are sprouts such a problem? "Unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, and E. coli," the federal government's food safety website explains.

The Food and Drug Administration has long cautioned against eating raw sprouts because of the risk for illness — especially for people who are particularly vunerable, such as very young children and the elderly.

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