Food Engineering

E. coli outbreak in Germany: Source now undefined

June 1, 2011
Death count has risen to 22 people, according to the latest information from the BBC.


Image source: FDA.
On May 27th, the European Commission (EC), through its Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), notified its 27 member states about one of the potential sources responsible for the STEC (shiga toxin-producing E.Coli) outbreak affecting primarily Germany and, to a smaller degree, four other member states.

The German authorities had informed the Commission earlier that they identified organic cucumbers from two provinces of Spain (Almeria and Malaga) as a potential source of the STEC toxin. They also suspected a batch of cucumbers originating in the Netherlands and traded in Germany, and this batch is still under investigation.

On June 1st, according to a news update from the BBC, German researchers are still trying to identify the source of the deadly E. coli outbreak after Spanish cucumbers were found not to have the lethal strain of E. coli.

According to May 27 news from the EC’s RASFF, the E. Coli outbreak was responsible for two deaths in Germany, while a total number of 214 cases had been recorded there, almost seven out of 10 (68%) concern women. Sweden had reported 10 cases, Denmark four, the UK three and the Netherlands one. The outbreak has affected mainly the Hamburg area, while most of the cases reported outside Germany concern either German nationals visiting the other affected Member States or persons who had been visiting Germany.

Updated information (June 2nd) from the BBC indicates the E. coli strain has killed 22 people-21 in Germany and one in Sweden. In Sweden, 41 people have contracted the E. coli infection with 15 developing hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal. According to the BBC, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute has confirmed 520 cases of HUS in Germany. 

According to a June 1st statement from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the source of the outbreak is under investigation, but contaminated food seems the most likely vehicle of infection. There is currently no indication that raw milk or meat is associated with the outbreak. The outbreak has been attributed to E. coli O104:H4-not the O157 serotype that has been common in the US. Most cases are from, or have a history of travel to the North of Germany (mainly Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North-Rhine-Westfalia and Hamburg). Within the EU, Sweden, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain have reported cases of HUS, related to the ongoing outbreak, reports the European agency.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government has demanded compensation for the affected Spanish growers, whose products now seem to be given a clean bill-of-health, according to the BBC.