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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

German E. coli O104:H4 Linked Epidemiologically to Organic Sprouts

Bean_Sprouts.jpgAP reports a few moments ago that local German organic vegetable sprouts have been linked epidemiologically to the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak that has killed 30 people and sickened nearly 3,000 – nearly 750 with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw that conclusion even though no tests of sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive for the E. coli strain behind the outbreak. Warnings have been lifted against lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

“In this way, it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts,” Burger said at a press conference with the heads of Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and Federal Office for Consumer Protection:

“It is the sprouts.” 

Do not forget the 12,680 sickened in 1996 in Sakai, Japan from radish sprouts. Fukushima H, Hashizume T, Morita Y, Tanaka J, Azuma K, Mizumoto Y, Kaneno M, Matsuura MO, Konma K, and Kitani T. 1999. Clinical experiences in Sakai City Hospital during the massive outbreak of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157 infections in Sakai City, 1996. Pediatr Int 41:213–217. Yes, and their have been before in the United States, and do not forget that it is “Sprout Month:”  More on past sprout outbreaks and warning:

Year Type Pathogen Cases

1990 Alfalfa S. Anatum 15

1995 Alfalfa S. Stanley 128

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 133

1995 Alfalfa S. Newport 69

1996 Alfalfa S. Stanley 30

1996 Alfalfa S. Montevideo 650

1997 Alfalfa S. Infantis 109

1997 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 108

1997 Alfalfa S. Senftenberg 60

1997 Alfalfa S. Meleagridis 78

1998 Alfalfa S. Havana 40

1998 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 8

1999 Alfalfa S. Mbandaka 83

1999 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 119

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 61

1999 Alfalfa S. paratyphi B 51

1999 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 34

1999 Alfalfa S. Muenchen 38

1999 Clover S. Saintpaul 36

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 75

2000 Mung S. Enteritidis 12

2001 Alfalfa S. Kottbus 32

2001 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 22

2001 Mung S. Enteritidis 84

2002 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 9

2003 Alfalfa S. Chester 26

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 7

2003 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 16

2003 Alfalfa E. coli O157:NM 13

2004 Alfalfa Salmonella spp. 12

2005 Alfalfa E. coli O157:H7 1

2005 Mung Salmonella spp. 648

2006 Bean S. Braenderup 4

2008 Alfalfa S. Typhimurium 13

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 6

2009 Alfalfa S. Saintpaul 235

2010 Alfalfa S. Newport 43

2010 Alfalfa S. I 4,[5],12:i:- 112

2011 Clover S. Newport 6

*Thanks to the CDC, Dr. Ben Chapman and Oregon DOH.

From the CDC: Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    I’ve been saying for a while, that all spout containers should have a label that says “Eat at your own risk”

  • doc raymond

    Does anyone know if this is the same sprouting operation where 2, maybe now 3, workers were ill with the same bacteria? And might that not support human contamination of the sprouts and/or facitlity as opposed to contaminated water or seeds coming into the facility?

  • http://www.marlerclark.com/wmarler.htm Bill Marler

    I think it depends if the worker or workers were the index case or cases.
    German health officials investigating a large Escherichia coli outbreak released new findings today that cast more suspicion on bean sprouts, though tests on a cucumber found in a sick family’s compost reportedly yielded the outbreak strain.
    Gert Hahne, a spokesman for Lower Saxony state’s Consumer Protection Ministry, said 18 people who became will with the enterohemorrhagic E coli (EHEC) O104:H4 outbreak strain got sick after eating sprouts from an organic farm that were served in their company cafeteria in Cuxhaven.
    The latest findings push the number of illness clusters to seven, which include about 100 people who got sick after eating at four company cafeterias and three restaurants that are known to have received sprouts from the farm.
    On Jun 5, health officials in Lower Saxony state tentatively linked bean sprouts grown at an organic farm in the northern part of the country to the massive EHEC outbreak based on initial tests. But more extensive tests conducted so far on samples from the facility haven’t turned up the outbreak strain.
    Also, Hahne said three women who worked at the farm and helped package the sprouts were sick with diarrhea during the first half of May, and one of the women had a confirmed EHEC infection. He said that a sick worker could have contaminated the sprouts or could have been sickened by the sprouts on the farm.

  • Doc Mudd

    It’s still not too late to change the story once again, this time to poltergeist.
    Could mean a lucrative book deal and movie rights if poltergeist is the cause…no box office draw for grubby old bean sprouts and diarrheic greenhouse workers. Could use a portion of the book & movie proceeds to pay off Spanish organic E. coli-slathered cucumber producers!

  • Carl Custer

    Classic question:
    Did the workers bring the bug to the sprouting environment or did they get it from the sprouting environment?
    Anyone checking seeds for external or internal bugs?
    Where is the ruminate connection?
    “Cherchez la vache”

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Poltergeist? That is hilarious. Perhaps all sprouts should be labeled that they are “potentially contaminated by Poltergeists. Eat at your own risk.” I know it is not a laughing matter at all, but Doc you made me laugh.

  • http://goinggreen.fastprofitpages.com/?id=jdmnet30 Going Green

    Pain is one that now not in the first page for the news.
    It seems that they do not like the good news of Spain.
    Been they have never infected cucumbers of Spain
    I hope that the compensation is so clay as the caused damage, to the economy and the image…