The source of the deadly E. coli outbreak (photo, from nouvelobs.com), which killed some 30 people, has been found in Germany. “It’s the bean sprouts,” said Reinhard Burger, head of Germany’s centre for disease control, talking about locally produced bean sprouts.
In the beginning officials blamed the E. coli on cucumbers imported from Spain. Some 3,000 people have been taken ill with the German E. coli outbreak involving a previously unknown strain of the bacterium.
On Friday Mr Burger, who heads the Robert Koch Institute, told reporters that no tests of the sprouts from a farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive, but added that there were enough evidence from the epidemiological investigation of the pattern of the outbreak to draw the conclusion.
He also said that the institute was lifting its warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, but keeping it in place for the sprouts.
Sufferers may develop haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) where bacteria attack the kidneys and nervous system, giving them fits and often forcing them on to dialysis.
“People who ate sprouts were nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea than those who did not,” Mr Burger said.
According to Germany’s top disease control official it is possible that all tainted sprouts have now been consumed or thrown away.
However he said the crisis was not over yet : “There will be new cases coming up.”
“Thousands of tests carried out on tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce have proved negative,” he added.
Earlier this week, Lower Saxony agriculture minister Gert Lindemann said experts had found no traces of the E. coli bacterium strain at the Bienenbuettel farm, but he did not rule it out as the source of the contamination.
In an interview to be published in next week’s edition of Focus magazine, he said some 60 of the people taken ill had eaten sprouts from the farm.
He added that contamination might have been caused by contaminated seeds or “poor hygiene”.
After talks between top EU officials including the Commission chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, and his Russian counterparts, Russia has lifted its ban on imports of EU fresh vegetables.
“We are ready to resume the shipments under guarantees of the EU authorities,” president Dmitry Medvedev told reporters.
In the next few days the EU will send a form to Russia for issuing food safety certificates, said Mr Barroso.
The Commission said that the total value of EU exports of fresh vegetables to Russia is 600m euros ($870m), a quarter of the total exported.
The biggest exporters are Spain, France, Germany and Poland.