Egyptian Fenugreek Seeds Now Suspected in European E. Coli Outbreak

Posted June 30th, 2011 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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European officials now suspect that the deadly E. coli outbreak that has killed at least 49 people may be linked to contaminated Egyptian fenugreek seeds.

Europe's Food Safety Authority and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control said Thursday that the seeds, imported in the last two years and then grown on farms in Europe, may have been the source of the bacteria that has sickened more than 4,000 people in 16 countries. The outbreak had been attributed to contaminated bean sprouts grown on a northern German organic farm.

The authorities said there still is “much uncertainty” as to whether the seeds were the source of the contaminated sprouts that people consumed. The vast majority of those sickened by the E. coli outbreak lived in Germany or had traveled there recently.

But a similar, much smaller outbreak in France in mid-June showed that the E. coli strain there had similar characteristics, such as resistance to antibiotics, and that most of the patients had eaten sprouts from a local farm.

Fenugreek leaves are commonly used as an herb, and the seeds are often used in curry sauces and spice mixes.

The authorities said a batch of seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 could be responsible for the French E. coli outbreak, while seed imports in 2010 could be linked to the larger number of cases in Germany.