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Update on E.coli O104 outbreaks

Posted: 7 July 2011 | Food Standards Agency | No comments yet

The European Commission has confirmed details of the withdrawal from sale of certain batches of fenugreek seeds sourced from Egypt…

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The European Commission has confirmed details of the withdrawal from sale of certain batches of fenugreek seeds sourced from Egypt, which have been linked to two recent outbreaks of E.coli O104 in Germany and France.

The batches of fenugreek seeds were sourced from Egypt between 2009 and 2011. A UK company that has been linked to the outbreak in France is the only UK business currently known to have received the implicated fenugreek seeds, via the German importer of the affected batch. These have already been withdrawn from sale by the company and samples are currently being tested for E. coli O104:H4.

The withdrawal, which is being implemented across Europe, covers fenugreek seeds for sprouting but does not include ground spices for cooking or products with fenugreek as an ingredient.

Additional precautionary action taken by the European Commission includes a temporary ban on the import of fenugreek and certain seeds, beans and sprouts imported from Egypt. This ban is in place until 31 October 2011.

These measures were decided by the EU following the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) report into the possible source of the outbreaks in Germany and France (see link). The EFSA report concluded that a batch of fenugreek seeds originally supplied from a company in Egypt to a German company is the most likely link between the two outbreaks.

However, evidence linking the two outbreaks to the implicated batch of fenugreek seeds is not definitive and investigations are continuing in all European countries.

EFSA has said that because the risk of cross-contamination between different seeds cannot be ruled out, its consumer advice has not changed. Its advice is for consumers not to eat sprouted seeds unless they have been cooked thoroughly.

The Food Standards Agency’s advice is also unchanged. Sprouted seeds should only be eaten if they have been cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout; they should not be eaten raw. Equipment that has been used for sprouting seeds should be cleaned thoroughly after use. People should always wash their hands before and after handling seeds intended for planting or sprouting as well as when preparing food. This advice is being kept under review.

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