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UPDATE: Bean Sprouts Likely Cause of E. Coli Outbreak in Germany, Tests Dispute Claim

Source: AP, NY TImes

Posted on 06 Jun 2011

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Locally grown bean sprouts are the likely cause of an E. coli outbreak that has killed 22 people and sickened over 2,200 others in Europe, according to statements made on Sunday by German agricultural authorities. But tests on Monday show that this may not be the case.

The Associated Press after speaking with ministry spokesperson Gert Hahne reported on Sunday that the Lower Saxony agriculture ministry was sending an alert warning people to stop eating the sprouts, which are often used in mixed salads. Bean sprouts have been identified as the product that likely caused the outbreak,” Hahne said. “Many restaurants that suffered from an E. coli outbreak had those sprouts delivered.” Hahne said the sprouts were grown on a farm in Lower Saxony in northern Germany. He did not elaborate but planned a news conference later Sunday.

However, on Monday, German agriculture officials said that 23 of 40 produce samples from a suspected sprout farm failed to identify E. coli contamination, a finding that adds to the confusion over the source of an the outbreak.

The announcement, made at a news conference Monday afternoon, came a day after officials had identified tainted sprouts from a farm in the Uelzen area in the north as the “most convincing” cause, and shut it down while it tested 18 sprout mixtures, including beans, broccoli, peas, chickpeas, garlic, lentils, mung beans and radishes. The sprouts are often used in mixed salads.

The results from the remaining 17 tests were expected within 24 hours.

The head of Germany’s national disease control center raised the death toll to 22 Sunday — 21 people in Germany and one in Sweden — and said another 2,153 people in Germany have been sickened. That figure includes 627 people who have developed a rare, serious complication that can cause kidney failure.

The World Health Organization said 10 other European nations and the U.S. have reported a total of 90 other victims.

Earlier in the day, Germany’s health minister fiercely 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 by Health Minister Daniel Bahr seemed to reflect a sharp U-turn in his public response to the crisis and came after Associated Press journalists reported on the chaos and unsanitary conditions in the emergency room of the same hospital, the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf.

Prior to his visit, Bahr admitted that hospitals in northern Germany were overwhelmed and struggling to provide enough beds and medical care for patients stricken by the bacterial outbreak, and suggested that other regions start taking in sick patients from the north.