|Health Minister Daniel Bahr of Germany toured the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf yesterday. (Focke Strangmann/Associated Press)|
Bean sprouts named as E. coli source
HAMBURG, Germany — Initial tests have confirmed that bean sprouts grown in northern Germany are the likely cause of an E. coli outbreak that has killed at least 22 people and sickened about 2,200, an agriculture official said yesterday.
Different kinds of sprouts from one organic farm in the greater Uelzen area, between the northern cities of Hamburg and Hannover, could be traced to infected persons in five German states, Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann told reporters.
“There were more and more indications in the last few hours that put the focus on this farm,’’ Lindemann said at a press conference in Hannover.
“Many restaurants that suffered from an E. coli outbreak had those sprouts delivered,’’ said Gert Hahne, his spokesman.
The farm was shut down yesterday and all of its produce — including fresh herbs, fruits, flowers, and potatoes — was recalled. At least one of the farm’s employees was also infected with the E.coli bacteria, the minister said.
Lindemann said 18 sprout mixtures were under suspicion — including sprouts of beans, broccoli, peas, chickpeas, garlic lentils, mungo beans, and radishes. The sprouts are often used in mixed salads.
Lindemann noted that the sprouts are grown with steam in barrels — an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.
He said it is possible that the water had been contaminated with E. coli or that the sprout seeds — purchased in Germany and other countries — already contained the bacteria.
He said the farmers had not used any manure, which has been known to cause E. coli outbreaks.
Lindemann urged Germans to not eat sprouts until further notice, and said definitive test results would be available today. He said authorities could not rule out other sources for the outbreak and urged Germans to continue avoiding tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce.
No one answered the phone at the farm linked to the outbreak last night.
The crisis is the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history.
The head of Germany’s national disease control center raised the death toll to 22 people yesterday — 21 in Germany and one in Sweden — and said another 2,153 people in Germany have been sickened.
That figure included 627 people who have developed a rare, serious complication of the disease that can cause kidney failure.
The World Health Organization said 10 other European nations and the United States have reported 90 other victims.
Earlier in the day, Germany’s health minister defended his country’s handling of a deadly E. coli outbreak as he toured a hospital in Hamburg, the epicenter of the crisis.
The comments came after reports of the chaos and unsanitary conditions at the emergency room of the same hospital, the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf.