The latest speculation for the food source at the root of the deadliest outbreak of E. coli on record comes from The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who concludes that a single shipment of fenugreek seeds from Egypt is the most likely source of the E coli epidemic that began in Germany.
Thus far, 49 people have died — 48 people in Germany and one person in Sweden — and more than 4,100 people in Europe and the US have been infected in two outbreaks: one in northern Germany, and the other near the French city of Bordeaux.
“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,” the EFSA said.
The European Food Safety Authority warned that other lots of fenugreek imported from Egypt during the period 2009 to 2011 may be implicated and forward-tracing investigations should be implemented in all countries that might have received seeds from the suspected lots.
EFSA advises EU consumers not to eat sprouts or sprouted seeds unless they are cooked thoroughly.
Approximately two weeks ago, German health officials announced the first confirmed case of human to human spread of E. Coli by a woman in the state of Hesse, near Frankfurt. The infected woman prepared food for a catering company and passed the bacterium on to 20 people.
“Now we have the proof that in this case a human passed on the germ to the vegetables and then it was passed to other humans,”Daniel Bahr, Germany’s health minister, said, during a visit to the Institute of Hygiene of the University Hospital in Muenster.
A week before that event, eight children were admitted to a hospital in northern France after allegedly eating beef burgers infected with a strain of E coli bacteria; a 2-year-old required breathing assistance and was in an artificial coma.
Health officials at the time moved quickly to dismiss the French outbreak as unrelated to the lethal strain of E coli that swept through Germany and then to France, and blamed boxes of frozen beef patties from the German discount chain Lidl for the French infections.
“We are now certain that this is not the same strain as the one discovered in Germany,”a health official from the Nord Pas de Calais region said.
The strain of E coli infections ( O104:H4) identified in the outbreaks can cause serious diarrhea, kidney failure and death.