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Contaminated bean sprouts are the likely source behind the E. coli outbreak that has killed 31 people since May, tests have revealed. A previous warning about cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh lettuce has been rescinded.
Locally-grown bean sprouts apparently caused the outbreak
Tests have revealed that bean sprouts are the likely source of an E. coli outbreak in Germany that has killed 31 people and made nearly 3,000 ill since May.
Officials revealed on Friday that the deadly 0104:H4 strain had been found on bean sprout packaging from an organic farm in the municipality of Bienenbüttel in that state of Lower Saxony.
The finding was reported by the consumer protection agency of the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
"The discovery confirms our current warning against the consumption of bean sprouts. It is therefore becoming increasingly more likely that bean sprouts are the source of the E. coli infections," said the state's consumer protection minister, Johannes Remmel.
Even before the positive test result was obtained, epidemiological investigations into the origins of the outbreak had led authorities to conclude that bean sprouts were the source. People who had eaten contaminated sprouts were nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhea than those who did not.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute - home of the country's federal infectious disease laboratory - has rescinded its warning to consumers to avoid cucumbers, fresh lettuce and tomatoes. However, Germans are still cautioned to avoid eating bean sprouts. The death toll rose on Friday after a 75-year-old woman in Lower Saxony died.
An expensive mistake
Spain has threatened to sue Germany over allegations that its cucumbers were the source
The false alarms have had a negative impact on vegetable farmers across Europe and soured diplomatic relations with Germany's neighbors.
European vegetable growers have lost millions of euros in sales after warnings for vegetables that later proved not to be the cause of the outbreak shook consumer confidence. Earlier this week, the European Union offered to pay out 210 million euros ($303 million) in compensation to farmers.
On Friday, Russia announced it would lift the blanket ban it had imposed on all European vegetable imports, though it did not say when.
Spain, meanwhile, had threatened to sue Germany over early allegations that Spanish cucumbers caused the outbreak. On Thursday, a visiting Spanish minister said no lawsuit would be filed as long as Germany helped restore the reputation of Spanish vegetables.
The E. coli outbreak has spread to at least 14 countries, with elderly women being the most frequent victims. Most of those affected had recently visited northern Germany.
Author: Richard Connor, Sarah Harman (dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel