After two months of uncertainty, perhaps the decisive turning point has come in the investigation into the Escherichia coli O 104 H: 4 epidemic that hit France and Germany, causing over 31 deaths, 888 people with compromised kidney systems and 3,189 patients who they contracted hemorrhagic dysentery without serious consequences.
According to a report published on 29 June by the ECDC , the investigations carried out on the traceability of the sprouts made it possible to identify in fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 and / or in 2010 the factor common to the outbreaks recorded in Germany and France.
It is not yet certain that this is the cause of all infections,because analytical feedback is lacking, but the probabilities are high. More precisely, the 2009 batch of seeds was used in the French town near Bordeaux, while the 2010 batch was used in Germany.
The Egyptian sprouts do not explain the most recent case found in Sweden but there is another element to consider. Fenugreek seeds are sold in packs along with other seeds, and are also used in cooking as an adornment of other dishes or as minor ingredients of ethnic preparation and recurrence.
Considering the high virulence of the bacterium , the contact of small quantities of contaminated seeds with other food products would be enough to trigger hemolytic dysentery.
On Monday 4 July, EFSA will publish a document in which it will take stock of the situation.
“An important element of this tragic story – explains Alfredo Caprioli (see photo) of the Higher Institute of Health and head of the European reference laboratory for E. coli – is that the bacterium seems to have a human origin, and is therefore not usually present in the intestines of animals. These are atypical strains of Escherichia coli (a frequent cause of diarrhea in developing countries, which assume the ability to produce toxins typical of Escherichia coli that lives in the intestines of cattle) that accidentally ended up in the food chain through the seeds.
The proof – continues Caprioli – is that the killer bacterium was found in some patients affected by the disease already 10 years ago, but has not been taken into consideration as these are rare and isolated episodes. We can therefore hypothesize that in the past these bacteria were occasionally introduced into Europe by people from non-European countries. In Europe, however, the bacterium has never found an ideal habitat to spread and circulate, given the high standards of hygiene, it has not created outbreaks and has not contaminated the food chain. The situation changed when in Egypt for hygienic reasons the bacterium from the human intestine reached the food chain and contaminated the fenugreek seeds sold in Europe. At this pointthe growing system of the shoots in the greenhouse at high temperature and critical humidity conditions, has allowed the bacteria to reproduce quickly and to contaminate the shoots ingested by people “.
The bitter consolation is that since it is an outbreak of infection caused by an Escherichia coli of human origin, once the contaminated seed batch has been eliminated, the risk can be considered finished as it happens for typhus and other human pathologies. The causes are therefore not to be found in the cultivation, distribution or packaging system of the sprouts but in the seeds. But be careful because sprouts, as we have written, are a food with a high risk of contamination and this aspect is too often underestimated.