Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

E coli outbreak that killed 49 in Germany 'caused by Egyptian fenugreek seeds'

A batch of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt which was used to grow sprouts by a German importer is the most likely source of a highly toxic E coli epidemic in Germany, European investigators said yesterday.

LONDON // A single shipment of fenugreek seeds from Egypt is the most likely source of a highly toxic E coli epidemic in Germany, European investigators said yesterday.

The outbreak has killed 49 people in Germany, while a smaller outbreak had also hit France.

The European Food Safety Authority said additional European Union member states and other countries had or may have received batches of suspect seeds and urged the European Commission to make "all efforts" to prevent any further consumer exposure.

Consumers should not eat sprouts or sprouted seeds unless they are thoroughly cooked, it said.

More than 4,100 people in Europe and North America have been infected in two outbreaks of E col, one in northern Germany and another around Bordeaux.

Almost all of those affected in the first outbreak, the deadliest on record, lived in Germany or had recently travelled there.

The food safety authority said: "The analysis of information from the French and German outbreaks leads to the conclusion that an imported lot of fenugreek seeds which was used to grow sprouts imported from Egypt by a German importer is the most common likely link."

It said the contamination of the seeds with a toxic strain of E coli had taken place "at some point prior to leaving the importer".

"Other lots of fenugreek imported from Egypt during the period 2009 to 2011 may be implicated," the food safety authority said, adding that investigations should be carried out in all countries that may have received seeds from the lots concerned.

EU government officials were meeting in Brussels yesterday to decide on their response to the investigations.

In a report on its investigations, the food safety authority said: "Given the possible severe health impact of exposure … it seems appropriate to consider all lots of fenugreek from the identified exporter as suspect."

The strain of E coli infections identified in the outbreaks, known as STEC O104:H4, can cause serious diarrhoea and, in severe cases, kidney failure or death.

The food safety authority said: "The contamination of seeds with the STEC O104:H4 strain reflects a production or distribution process which allowed contamination with faecal material of human and/or animal origin. Where exactly this took place is still an open question."

E coli bacteria thrive in nutrient-rich environments, like the guts of humans or cows. The STEC O104:H4 strain has been found to be particularly sticky, making it able to cling on to leaves, seeds and other foodstuffs.

The food safety authority said the number of EU countries that had received parts of the suspected lots is much larger than previously known. It said: "It cannot be excluded that other member states and third countries were supplied."

In western Germany, health officials have been carrying out wide-scale E coli tests in the municipality of Paderborn after renewed cases of the strain had been reported among primary school pupils and canteen workers, shutting one school for a week.

More than 800 pupils, teachers, supervisors and pensioners were being tested for the E coli strain.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National