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Culprit In German E. Coli Outbreak: Egyptian Fenugreek Seeds

EU officials say that fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt are the cause of the E. coli outbreak.

fenugreek seeds

Photo: Sriram Bala (Flickr)

The fenugreek seeds were exported to 70 European countries. 51 people have died from eating the contaminated seeds and sprouts.

Guilty As Charged

The European Food Safety Authority reported earlier this week that fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt are the cause of the recent E. coli contamination centered in Germany that killed 51 people and infected 4,100 others.

The seeds were exported from an Egyptian company (whose name has not been released) to 70 different European countries. 54 of the companies receiving the seeds were in Germany where the outbreak occurred.

Survival Of The Fittest

It will be difficult to trace the contaminated seeds because E. coli is hard to find before the seeds grow into sprouts. Isolating the contaminated seeds “could be like searching for a needle in a haystack,” says microbial biologist Ian Henderson.

Experts warn that more cases of E. coli could occur as these seeds make their way through the food system.

E. coli bacteria can survive for years on dry seeds. The seeds might have already sickened people outside of Germany and France but singular incidents are not always reported or diagnosed as E. coli poisoning, which makes it difficult to link them to the large epidemic.

Fenugreek is an herb that is often used in Indian curries and as a seasoning. The fenugreek seeds that caused the E. coli outbreak in Germany were sold with lentils in a mixed spice package.

U.S. Government: All Clear in America

The FDA says that Americans have a low risk of becoming sick from the E. coli strain that has affected Germany and France because the United States does not important very much European produce. The FDA is continuing to monitor German imports but so far the only Americans who have become sick with E. coli had recently visited Germany.

“We have no reason to believe, and no expectation, that this is going to spread in our country,” said Chris Braden, the Center for Disease Control’s director of foodborne diseases.

EU experts agree with the USDA that sprouts should always be cooked before eating. They also advise that people do not grow their own sprouts.

Read More:

  • E coli outbreak blamed on Egyption fenugreek seeds (The Guardian)
  • Seeds Blamed For Europe E. Coli Still On Sale (NPR)
  • FDA, CDC say E. coli risk is low in U.S. (The Hill)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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