E. coli outbreak blamed on Egyptian fenugreek seeds

July 6, 2011

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that one lot of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt and used to produce sprouts is the most likely source for the E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France. However, it cannot be excluded that other lots of fenugreek imported from Egypt during the period 2009–2011 may be implicated. Based on these findings, the EFSA recommends to the European Commission that all efforts be made to prevent any further consumer exposure to the suspect seeds and that forward tracing be carried out in all countries that may have received seeds from the concerned lots.

Since May 2011, an outbreak of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) has been ongoing in Germany, though the number of new cases is rapidly decreasing. On June 24, 2011, French authorities reported an E. coli outbreak in the region of Bordeaux. Since the start of these outbreaks, there have been a large number of patients that have developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). To date, the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak is responsible for 48 deaths in Germany and one in Sweden. The total number of cases reported in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland is 4,178.

In light of the findings from the ongoing investigation and the conclusions of the tracing back exercise leading to fenugreek seeds as the most likely common link between the German and French outbreaks, the EFSA considers that its previous advice issued on June 29, with respect to consumer protection remains valid. As seeds sold for sprouting are often sold as seed mixes and cross-contamination cannot be excluded, it is important that consumers are advised not to grow sprouts for their own consumption, and also not to eat sprouts or sprouted seeds unless they have been cooked thoroughly. This advice will be kept under review in the light of developments.

Press release