10 Jun 2011

E-coli outbreak - it's the sprouts

11:22 pm on 10 June 2011

Germany is finally blaming sprouts for a bacteria outbreak that has left at least 30 people dead and almost 3,000 ill, and cost farmers across Europe hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.

Reinhard Burger, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's national disease centre, told a news conference: "It's the sprouts."

Citing a study of more than 100 people who fell ill after dining in restaurants, he said people who ate sprouts were found to be nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea or other signs of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) than those who did not.

As a result, the German government has lifted a warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.

Mr Burger says the origin of the contamination is believed to be a small organic farm in Lower Saxony that first came under suspicion at the weekend.

"Tests carried out at the farm have proved negative" but evidence still pointed to the farm as a probable source of contamination, he added.

German authorities initially blamed cucumbers imported from Spain as the origin of the outbreak.

But they later retracted the statement based on subsequent tests, infuriating Madrid and sparking threats of lawsuits.

In an attempt to help hard-hit farmers, the European Union has offered to pay out 210 million euros in compensation.