E. coli update: no positive sprouts so far

Well, Sunday the said we'd have some results on the sprout tests for E. coli O104:H4. Well, so far the results are negative.

The 1st tests from a north German farm suspected of being the source
of an _E. coli_ [O104:H4] outbreak are negative, officials say. Of 40 samples from the farm being examined, they said 23 tested negative.

Officials had said earlier that bean sprouts produced at the farm in Uelzen, south of Hamburg, were the most likely cause of the outbreak. The outbreak, which began 3 weeks ago and is concentrated in Hamburg, has left 22 people dead. Initially, German officials had pointed to Spanish cucumbers as the probable cause of the illness.

The moderator notes that just because the ones being tested are negative, it doesn't rule out the farm as the source of the outbreak. Perhaps all the contaminated sprouts are gone, and if it was something wrong at the farm (contamination of the water by sewage or something similar), it may have resolved itself. Nevertheless, after the false start with the Spanish cucumbers, it would certainly be nice to get some kind of confirmation. Apparently the tests on the remaining 17 samples are still pending so it remains to be seen if there will be any proven connection, but it's looking less likely. If they don't find anything definitive, officials are going to have even more egg on their faces.

While the human cases seem to be slowing down, this is going to be bad if the source can't be identified--and that gets more difficult to do every day that passes.

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Whether they are or aren't, it's clear that our food system is alarmingly insecure. How many more outbreaks like this do we need to convince the world that we need to rethink how we farm and handle our our food? It could easily have been worse and likely will be in the future!

Not only will the officials have more egg on their face if the sprouts are exonerated, more importantly, several people's livelihood will have been destroyed and a (most likely) valuable farm put out of business.

Pat Meadows

By Pat Meadows (not verified) on 07 Jun 2011 #permalink

I definitely don't envy the officials. It must be a very fine line as to whether or not to inform the public if you have identified a suspected cause.

Either you don't tell them, and then if that product turns out to be the cause you get blamed for some of the illnesses/deaths because you didn't warn people in time, or you do tell them but then if the suspected link turns out to be a dead end you have potentially damaged a large group of food producers.

Hopefully whether or not they track down the source, it is now or soon will be out of the food chain and the new cases will stop.

@1: I certainly agree that we need to be able to track various pathogens, ensure food quality and in the case of meat, ensure that the various antibiotics and hormones have little or no effect. Something which seems unlikely. However, even with those negatives we clearly have the best food sources there have ever been in human history. Also, although these issues are individually tragic, statistically they are not particularly high. I am no corporate hack, nor do I have financial interest in this issue. I do think we should continue to protect ourselves as best we can and prevent future problems. I also believe we shouldn't be alarmist.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 07 Jun 2011 #permalink

Time to start irradiating the sprouts. Bonus, they last longer on store shelves. Less waste. The anti-nuke folks will throw a fit but the use of a linear accelerator eliminates the radioactive materials, and listening to the Greens whine and pull their hair out is far better on the constitution than dying from a vicious strain of E.Coli.