Sproutbreak — big media cover up — 50 deaths, nearly 900 maimed with HUS and 4000 sick: sprouts guilty

 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”(George Santayana). (Here’s *a reminder* for those who have forgotten or do not know.)

Main lessons to be taken from this short history:

The type of food label needed here ?- from Bill Marler

  1. Bean and various other seed sprouts are the suspects. Humans can carry and transmit the germ. The E. coli EHEC germ is spreading to other countries. Disease risks are severe. A serious global epidemic of a deadly disease is possible, even likely if immediate actions are not taken.
  2. Basic hygiene in all parts of fresh vegetable production and use in food needs to be given a thorough review everywhere and improvements communicated widely.
  3. Various special interests are likely to generate irrelevant noise that will obscure these messages getting through to potential victims: this noise should be ignored
  4. To avoid people being harmed,  efforts and comments should be focussed on spreading the first two messages .
To understand the crux of this topic people just need to read this single Bloomberg story
By Niklas Magnusson – Jun 9, 2011 11:53 AM ET
All else is detail.
But the main details of what we know now follow for the more curious reader.

Updates (latest 24-06-2011. Further updates on the outbreak after that will be made at the Barfblog hot with the latest gossip post)

Video interview with Dr Tribe about E. coli worries and how to react to them.

Later Pundit posts about the outbreak or highly relevant to its emergence:

More about how the EHEC germ may spread in seeds

The banning of irradiation of foods 11 years ago in Germany

Barfblog again hot with the late

Other important  items:

Epidemic Profile of Shiga-Toxin–Producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 Outbreak in Germany — Preliminary Report
Christina Frank, Ph.D., Dirk Werber, D.V.M., Jakob P. Cramer, M.D., Mona Askar, M.D., Mirko Faber, M.D., Matthias an der Heiden, Ph.D., Helen Bernard, M.D., Angelika Fruth, Ph.D., Rita Prager, Ph.D., Anke Spode, M.D., Maria Wadl, D.V.M., Alexander Zoufaly, M.D., Sabine Jordan, M.D., Klaus Stark, M.D., Ph.D., and Gérard Krause, M.D., Ph.D. for the HUS Investigation Team
June 22, 2011 (10.1056/NEJMoa1106483)

Food Safety Network
More Details on the Mysterious German Microbe

Blast from the past:

Infections Associated with Eating Seed Sprouts: An International Concern
Peter J. Taormina, Larry R. Beuchat, and Laurence Slutsker†
Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol. 5, No. 5, September-–October 1999 page 626

Q&A: Dr. Robert Tauxe on the Outbreak in Germany

E. coli O104:H4 – 38 Dead, 824 with HUS, 3351 Ill – Massachusetts, Michigan, and Wisconsin with 5

Household transmission of haemolytic uraemic syndrome associated with Escherichia coli O104:H4 in the Netherlands, May 2011
23.jun.11 via Barfblog
Eurosurveillance, Volume 16, Issue 25
E J Kuijper, D Soonawala, C Vermont, J T van Dissel
Following the outbreak of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and haemorrhagic colitis in Germany, two patients returning from a stay in Germany developed HUS due to Escherichia coli O104:H4 in the Netherlands. The index case developed symptoms eight days, and her child 15 days after their return. It is very likely that transmission resulted from secondary spread from mother to child. Recommendations should be made to prevent secondary transmission within households.

GERMAN E. coli strain especially lethal, studies find
23.jun.11 via Barfblog
Steven Reinberg
(HealthDay News) — The strain of E. coli bacteria that this month killed dozens of people in Europe and sickened thousands more may be more deadly because of the way it has evolved, a new study suggests.
Scientists say this strain of E. coli produces a particularly noxious toxin and also has a tenacious ability to hold on to cells within the intestine. This, alongside the fact that it is also resistant to many antibiotics, has made the so-called O104:H4 strain both deadlier and easier to transmit, German researchers report.
“This strain of E. coli is much nastier than its [more common] cousin E. coli O157, which is nasty enough — about three times more virulent,” said Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and author of an accompanying editorial published online June 23 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Another study, published the same day in the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that, as of June 18, more than 3,200 people have fallen ill in Germany due to the outbreak, including 39 deaths.
In fact, the German strain — traced to sprouts raised at a German organic farm — “was responsible for the deadliest E. coli outbreak in history,” Pennington said. “It may well be so nasty because it combines the virulence factors of shiga toxin, produced by E. coli O157, and the mechanism for sticking to intestinal cells used by another strain of E. coli, enteroaggregative E. coli, which is known to be an important cause of diarrhea in poorer countries,” he said.
Shiga toxin can also help spur what doctors call “hemolytic uremic syndrome,” a potentially fatal form of kidney failure. In the New England Journal of Medicine study, German researchers say that 25 percent of outbreak cases involved this complication.
The bottom line, according to Pennington: “E. coli hasn’t gone away. It still springs surprises.”
To find out how this strain of the intestinal bug proved so lethal, researchers led by Dr. Helge Karch from the University of Munster st
udied 80 samples of the bacteria from affected patients. They tested the samples for shiga toxin-producing E. coli and also for virulence genes of other types of E. coli.
That’s when they uncovered the strain’s use of shiga toxin and its propensity to adhere tightly to cells in the digestive tract. This tight bond between the bacteria and the intestinal cells ” might facilitate systemic absorption of shiga toxin,” the authors wrote, upping the odds that a patient might progress to the sometimes deadly hemolytic uremic syndrome.
The strain was also resistant to common antibiotics, specifically penicillins and cephalosporins. Luckily, it was susceptible to another class of antibiotics called carbapenems.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine study, severe cases involving the hemolytic uremic syndrome have occurred mainly among adults, predominantly women. In one medical center in Hamburg, 12 of 59 patients infected with the O104:H4 strain went on to develop the sometimes form of deadly kidney failure, according to a team led by Christina Frank, of Berlin’s Robert Koch Institute.
For their part, the authors of the Lancet study believe that the emergence of the new strain “tragically shows ” how E. coli can change and “have serious consequences for infected people.”
One outside expert agreed. Infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City, said that “in this case the bug itself is more virulent and more transmissible.”
This is just part of how the bacterium develops to survive, Siegel explained. And these changes may well affect other strains of E. coli. “These bugs are becoming more virulent,” he said.
One culprit, according to Siegel, is the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Dosing animals with large quantities of antibiotics can make bacteria such as E. coli resistant to the drugs, he said.
These bacteria can then find their way into produce via water contaminated with animal waste, Seigel added. From there, the pathogen need only find its way into a salad or other food to infect people.
More information
For more information on food borne illness, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(SOURCES: Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor, bacteriology, University of Aberdeen, Scotland; Marc Siegel, M.D., associate professor, medicine, New York University, New York City, author of The Inner Pulse: Unlocking the Secret Code For Sickness and Health; June 23, 2011, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, online; June 23, 2011, online, New England Journal of Medicine )

WHO on EHEC outbreak: Update 16

Mounting evidence, new recommendations
On 10 June, authorities from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) jointly stated that mounting epidemiological and food-chain evidence indicated that bean and seed sprouts (including fenugreek, mung beans, lentils, adzuki beans and alfalfa) are the vehicle of the outbreak in Germany caused by the unusual enteroaggregative verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (EAggEC VTEC) O104:H4 bacterium.

The authorities now recommend that people in Germany should not eat raw bean and seed sprouts of any origin. Households, caterers and restaurants should dispose of any bean and seed sprouts that they have, and any food items that might have been in contact with them, until further notice.
In addition, BfR advises against eating home-grown, uncooked sprouts and seedlings.
The recommendation not to eat cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy salads in northern Germany is cancelled.
The authorities recommend withdrawal from the market of all food products from a farm in Lower Saxony, where the implicated bean and seed sprouts originated.
Numerous investigations continue, including into delivery chains. So far, there is no evidence that bean and seed sprouts from the farm have been exported beyond Germany.
The authorities recommend strict adherence to general hygiene advice when handling food items, after using the toilet and when health professionals are in contact with patients.
BfR, BVL and RKI issued a joint press release on 10 June with more details. The press release was updated on 12 and 13 June. (continues)

Nature Editorial
Published online 15 June 2011
If it is to deal effectively with outbreaks of infectious diseases, Germany must streamline its convoluted systems for reporting and communication.
Some six weeks after
the first cases of potential food poisoning were reported, diners in Germany are still contemplating their side salads nervously, spooked by the confused information and warnings that have been issued over the past few weeks. Which item of greenery might be home to the deadly Escherichia coli bacterium known as EHEC O104:H4? By 13 June, the microbe had infected 3,325 people and killed 36.
The German public has been traumatized. It took weeks for the probable source of the bacterium to be named as an organic-bean-sprout farm in Lower Saxony. And, inevitably, accusations of crisis mismanagement are starting to fly.
These critical fingers, rightly, are not pointed at the scientists in Germany (and elsewhere), who rose admirably to the challenge of identifying and analysing the culprit. Instead, they are directed, with some justification, at the bizarrely complicated system Germany uses to handle disease outbreaks and track their sources — and at an alarmingly outdated way of transmitting information between physicians and agencies…continues at link

Scheutz et al. provide convincing evidence that the STEC strain causing the outbreak in Germany is in fact not a typical virulent STEC strain, but instead is a much rarer hybrid pathotype that harbours the phage-mediated Shiga toxin determinant with an enteroaggregative E. coli (EAggEC) background, more precisely described as enteroaggregative, Shiga toxin/verotoxin-producing E. coli (EAggEC STEC/VTEC). Secondly, they also identify in this strain the presence of the receptor for iron-chelating aerobactin, known to be a virulence factor associated with the extra-intestinal E. coli pathotype. Thirdly, they provide new data attesting to a close genetic relatedness of the German outbreak strain to previously described similar EAggEC STEC/VTEC strains. These findings are relevant for identifying the ecological reservoir and evolutionary origin of the epidemic agent, gaining a better understanding of the biological determinants of unusual disease severity and clinical complications seen in outbreak cases and the design of specific diagnostic tools for detection and treatment of STEC cases, and identification of the epidemic strain for accurate outbreak monitoring.

So what do the findings tell us about the reservoir and origin of the pathogen causing this outbreak? EAggEC is a common pathogen causing diarrhoea in travellers and persistent diarrhoea in infants and young children living in countries with poor sanitation [6,7]. In contrast to STEC strains that have an animal reservoir, mostly ruminants, EaggEC strains have a human reservoir. Little is known about the pathogenic role and epidemiological features of infections caused by strains of the hybrid EAggEC STEC/VTEC pathotype. One HUS outbreak caused by a strain of this mixed pathotype, but associated with a distinct serotype, had been previously reported from France in 1998 [8]. Scheutz et al. report that seven previously reported cases of diarrhoea or HUS worldwide caused by EAggEC O104:H4 have been identified: from Germany in 2001, France in 2004, South Korea in 2005, Georgia in 2009 and Finland in 2010 [9,10]. By PFGE analysis of EAggEC O104:H4 strains that are positive and negative for the Shiga toxin (stx) gene, the authors further demonstrate that, in contrast to the diversity seen within this serotype, isolates from the 2011 German outbreak cases exhibit a level of genetic similarity, which is also seen in the EAggEC STEC/VTEC O104:H4 strain from an unpublished outbreak of HUS in Georgia, which was investigated jointly by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Georgian public health authorities in 2009. However, no epidemiological link between these two outbreaks has been reported as yet and therefore the meaning of this finding remains elusive. Additional comparison of genomic relatedness of the German 2011 epidemic strain with other previously detected STEC O104:H4 strains causing sporadic HUS cases in other parts of the world should provide a more complete understanding of the potential reservoir and possible origin of the 2011 epidemic strain. 

Another fascinating development stems from comparative genomics, available in real time, to elucidate the ancestral origin of the 2011 outbreak strain. On 2 June, further information on the nature of the hybrid EAggE
C STEC/VTEC pathotype of this strain came from whole genome sequence information generated by two groups of German academic investigators [11]. Sequence information from a third isolate from a patient was subsequently generated at the Health Protection Agency, United Kingdom.  The data sets from these sequencing initiatives were instantly released for public access, resulting in data analysis among bioinformaticians and other researchers around the world. Results from these preliminary analyses have been rapidly communicated via blogs, Twitter and private web pages, outside the standard peer-reviewed scientific publication route. These initiatives have confirmed the microbiological characterisation of the outbreak strain made in the public health laboratories by targeted genotyping and phenotyping of facultative E. coli virulence genes. Most importantly, among compared E. coli genome sequences, the genome of the 2011 outbreak strain clustered closest to an EAggEC strain isolated in 2002, with the addition of stx2 and antibiotic resistance genes.

From Eurosurveillance, Volume 16, Issue 24, 16 June 2011
M J Struelens , D Palm, J Takkinen
Microbiology Coordination Section, Resource Management and Coordination Unit, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Stockholm, Sweden
Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses Programme, Office of the Chief Scientist, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Stockholm, Sweden
Citation style for this article: Struelens MJ, Palm D, Takkinen J. Enteroaggregative, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak: new microbiological findings boost coordinated investigations by European public health laboratories . Euro Surveill. 2011;16(24):pii=19890. Available online: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=19890
Date of submission: 14 June 2011

 Death Toll Reaches 37
Two-Year-Old Boy Dies in German E. Coli Outbreak 

Spiegel on line

Nature News Blog: Beansprouts: guilty

June 10, 2011, Nature News Blog
“It’s the bean sprouts,” said Reinhard Burger, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German federal agency for disease surveillance in Berlin. The verdict, delivered earlier today, finally settles weeks of speculation about the source of the Escherichia coli outbreak which has swept across Europe over the past month (see ‘Microbe outbreak panics Europe’)…
…Now, investigators have linked people who have fallen ill with 26 restaurants which received produce from the farm. According to an Associated Press report, Andreas Hensel, the head of the country’s risk assessment agency, said: “They even studied the menus, the ingredients, looked at bills and took pictures of the different meals, which they then showed to those who had fallen ill.”
Health authorities in Germany have finally been able to show that the pathogens which caused the deadly EHEC outbreak came from sprouts at an organic farm in the Uelzen district. According to SPIEGEL ONLINE information, the breakthrough was made by scientists in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Final verification, however, is still pending.

As of Friday it remained unclear how the dangerous bacteria came to be present at the farm.
Even before this latest discovery, all the evidence had pointed to the farm in the state of Lower Saxony as the probable cause of the epidemic which has so far killed 29 people. Authorities had warned against eating raw sprouts. “It’s the sprouts”, the president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Reinhard Burger, said in a press conference convened in Berlin on Friday.

Quoting comments at Nature news blog
I think that other important explanation to why this (O104:H4) and other E. coli strains (i.e., O157:H7) are becoming more present in organic products, is that the extended use of organic agriculture where manure is used as fertilizer it is been selecting for strains with the ability to invade and grow inside the plant vascular tissues thus reaching fruits and leaves. At least, E. coli O157:H7 has been reported growing inside plants. I wonder if the routine microbiological tests are taking into consideration that contamination may be inside the vegetable product and not only external surfaces. Likewise, I regret that most media are trying to hide the relationships between this terrible EHEC-HUS outbreak and organic agriculture.
Posted by: Marcel Gutierrez-Correa | June 10, 2011 06:25 PM

EHEC: A detective story

Today (June 10) the Robert Koch Institute published an Information update on EHEC outbreak. It’s a long document, with one passage of special interest: How the experts narrowed the culprit down to the sprouts. Excerpt:
Recipe-based restaurant cohort study 
With a high probability, the results of the “recipe-based restaurant cohort study” finally permit narrowing down the source of the infection to the consumption of sprouts. It was possible to apply this methodological approach only after a sufficient number of restaurant customers could be identified to ensure adequate statistical power of this analysis.

For an explanation of how they did it, and how difficult finding the culprit in this case was, go to:
Category: Food
Posted on: June 10, 2011 5:26 PM, by Liz Borkowski

This  is nasty:
FINLAND: EHEC infection discovered in Helsinki kindergarten
10.jun.11 via Doug Powell/ Barfblog
Helsingin Sanomat

A case of the EHEC infection that has caused havoc in Germany was found in a Helsinki kindergarten on Thursday. Health officials were notified of the matter at around noon, according to infectious diseases specialist and Helsinki city epidemiologist Hannele Kotilainen.
The daycare centre is now attempting to determine if there is more than one case to the outbreak.
“The matter is being examined according to the usual channels. We are charting the group and anyone with symptoms, and running tests on them”, reports Kotilainen.
She did not specify whether the infected party was a child or one of the kindergarten’s adult staff.

So is this 
SWEDEN reports first domestic EHEC case
The Local
For the first time, a Swede with no connections to Germany has been infected with the virulent enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria that has claimed dozens of lives across Europe, Swedish health authorities reported on Tuesday.
“This means that the source of the infection is in Sweden, which is a lot worse, because it might mean that there is some form of infected food product in circulation that we haven’t yet identified, “ said Sofie Ivarsson, epidemiologist at the institute to news agency TT.
The infected Swede comes from Skåne, in southern Sweden, and has not been traveling in Germany. Neither does he have any other known connections to anyone else who have been taken ill after visiting Germany.
“All previous Swedish cases had a connection to Germany, but not this. This is a completely new case, which we identified this morning. We have not left any stones unturned and yet we have not been able to find any connection,” Ivarsson told TT.
The patient fell ill in the middle of June but is now reported to be feeling better, according to the institute.
There is an ongoing investigation to find the source of the infection, but it is not yet known if it originated in Sweden or if a connection to the German outbreak will be revealed.
According to the head of the institute, Johan Carlson, there are now only two alternatives. Either the Swedish man has been infected indirectly, or the source of the infection is in Sweden.
“And then we have more of a problem,” he told TT.

Thanks to Nick Loman for sproutbreak.


  1. This blog post needs to be amended. The death toll now stands at 33.
    A strange counterpart to the media silence is that it appears nobody is demanding that public officials take action to prevent things like this from happening again. Probably because doing so would involve pointing an accusing finger at organic.

  2. Can we really point a finger at organic? I mean, sprouts are produced indoors, with little inputs other than water whether they are organic or not, correct? Can we really even call it organic if it wasn’t farmed under organic conditions? Unless conventional sprouts receive some sort of antimicrobial treatment that makes them less “organic”? I’m with Bill Marler on this one – sprouts might need warning labels – whether they are organic or not.
    What this story really does, in my opinion, is call into question the theory that small, local producers will produce safer food. In reality, they just produce less food, so fewer people are harmed if there is a problem.

  3. Marler describes the recent large sproutbreak in the US, and points to the specific practices at Tiny Greens Organic farm: http://www.marlerblog.com/legal-cases/fda-483-inspection—tiny-greens-and-jimmy-johns-sicken-125-in-22-states-with-salmonella-i-4512-i-/
    Maybe they were also doin’ it rong, but it looks to me like the deck was stacked for bad things to happen because of the practices.
    That said, I agree that conventional sprouts aren’t immune, and are now off my list as well.
    I think the reason that some of us want to see the phrase “organic sprouts” used is because of the false aura that generally surrounds the word “organic”. Marion Nestle has talked about that aura, and it’s actually causing people to take decision shortcuts.
    They don’t get to claim the aura and ignore the reality–that it’s not a ticket to purity.

  4. Another thought: after the early cucumber accusations, I found myself arguing with people who were claiming they were conventional because it didn’t say organic in the story they read–where it did say that in the one I read.
    Yeah–the organic ones that had E. coli, just not *that* E. coli….
    So what I’m saying is that the presumed “conventional” status of the cukes was being used as ammunition by people who wished to defend organic purity.

  5. No we can’t point the finger at organic, in the same way we couldn’t point the finger yesterday at the sprout farm.
    But the Germans needed to point (and did point) the searchlight of scrutiny at that farm, to find out more.
    Now we need to point the searchlight of scrutiny at organic practices that may have increased risk at that farm.
    Or at any other farm.
    For example, were the farm workers at greater risk of exposure to gut infection because of manure or compost at the farm. Did the infected workers transmit the contamination to sprouts during food processing?
    What are the Critical Control Points that should be implemented?
    And so on.
    Since the strain now appears to have been transmitted to a kindergarten in Finland, we may be observing a global pandemic in real time.
    This is very serious and demands intense and immediate scrutiny everywhere.

  6. No we can’t point the finger at organic

    Coulda fooled me.
    Sharon Astyk over at Casaubon’s book has a piece on this describing the techniques for producing sprouts, they didn’t particularly strike me as particularly risky.
    Do we need intense immediate scrutiny – obviously, one of the reasons I have a great deal of trust in the food system – these outbreaks are relatively small and get stomped fast – we have scrutiny in abundance apparently. We don’t need to however turn it into something it ain’t (which is precisely what Europeans do best with even the slightest food related health scare)

  7. To put it bluntly,
    Sharon’s out of date, ill-informed, and in denial.
    Remember 31+ people dead, 3000 ill, you’d hope some precautionary action and thinking would be taking place. She should do a google search on Bill Marler and wake up.
    Also remember to stance of the sprout farm manager:
    Amazingly, the manager of the farm “can’t understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together” .
    He does not seem to realise Sprouts are inherently risky, yet he was running an operation that’s killed 31 plus people, hospitalised +600, and sickened thousands, and it’s not even over yet. We need to get really tough hygiene messages through this murk of incompetence.
    PS. This is the same denial/incompetence mentality that leads to claims that just because the Spanish organic cucumbers had a different lethal germ from feces, they were in “the clear”. No-where do we hear of the need to apply the “precautionary principle” when it really matters — when it applies to them.

  8. I think it’s a disgrace that Sharon Astyk’s blog is listed as a “science blog.” She’s a peak oil cultist and a Luddite.

  9. “Can we really point a finger at organic?”
    Absolutely! If they were indeed farmed “organically,” then the claims of the “organics” movement are bunk. They regularly claim that “organic” food is “safer, better-tasting, and more nutritious.” All three claims are not supported by the evidence. The first claim–“safer”–is a joke.

  10. All of the claims? Not so fast. I agree that the safer and healthier claims in general have been shown, with peer reviewed evidence, to be false, but I don’t think it’s fair to take one incidence of bad practices of one producer (with an inherently risky food) and apply that to everything else. It’s the same as when we find one peanut butter manufacturer being unsanitary, or one slaughterhouse treating animals inhumanely, or one fast food franchise location with rats…. all of these are problems that need to be addressed but none of them are necessarily representative of all others. Similarly, any exceptional producer can’t be expected to be representative either.

  11. There’s a ton of interesting stuff on the internet about sprouts, which I will collect some of here for you, dear Biofortified readers, because it’s Friday night and that’s how I roll. Ewan, this epic comment is for you.
    Sprout production is definitely inherently risky. Here’s a nice how-to guide from Oregon State.

    Maintain a sprouting temperature of 70-80 F during the entire sprouting period (about 5 days) for best quality sprouts. Temperatures of between 80 and 85 F result in slightly quicker growth but produce more elongated sprouts. Sprinkle thoroughly with lukewarm water (70 F) every 4 to 6 hours, allowing the water to drain completely each time, for maximum flushing of accumulated carbon dioxide and metabolic wastes and to provide adequate aeration and oxygen flow.

    Sounds like a nice environment for bacteria to me! A little cold, but surely some hardy bugs would do just fine, especially if our grower raises the temp a little to make the sprouts grow faster.
    The FDA recommends:

    Seeds should be treated with one or more treatments that have been shown to reduce pathogenic bacteria that may be present. Intervention strategies that deliver less than a given reduction (at this time, 5-log) in levels of Salmonella spp. and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157 should be coupled with a microbiological testing program

    But of course that’s just a recommendation (presumably the German food authority has similar recommendations). Who knows what producers are or aren’t doing – what the actual production temperatures are, or what antimicrobials the seeds are being treated with.
    Now, if conventional sprouts were treated with antimicrobials and organic sprouts were not, then we’d have cause to say it’s the irrational and arbitrary organic rules that contributed to the problem. But I can’t find anything that says that antimicrobials (heck, even a simple bleach solution would work) are common in conventional sprout production, only that they are recommended. One problem may be that some of the antimicrobial treatments reduce yield. In sprouts, yield has two main factors: germination rate (how many seeds sprout) and how long the sprouts get, which can both be affected by antimicrobial treatments.
    And now for some science. There’s lots of papers about decontamination methods (for more, see the FDA page on sprouts, although it sorely needs an update), but these were two unique ones:
    In 2009, Korean researchers found that an anti-microbial coating on the inside of the sprouts package significantly reduced total microbial counts: “allyl isothiocyanate was the most effective antimicrobial compound, followed by garlic oil and trans-cinnamaldehyde.” (Unique because of the organic origin of the antimicrobials.) In 2010, Japanese researchers figured out an effective method to pasteurize mung bean seeds before sprouting that includes a heat treatment. They showed it worked at large scales, too. (Unique because they actually demonstrated that the method scaled up, which most of the studies didn’t do.)
    Besides these different methods using heat and various chemicals, there’s a ton of studies on irradiation and sprouts. For example:
    In 2007 Indian researchers found irradiation of seeds doesn’t help with bacteria introduced post sprouting (duh) so recommended irradiation of the sprouts, not the seeds. They also found that higher levels (2kGy) of irradiation did start to affect germination rates, although Vitamin C levels were unaffected. The effect of radiation on sprouts seems to be species dependent, because back in 2001, USDA ARS researchers http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11770628 that “The irradiation process can be used to increase the shelf life of alfalfa sprouts, and irradiating alfalfa seeds at doses up to 2 kGy does not unacceptably decrease the yield ratio for production of alfalfa sprouts.”
    Since some species of sprouts have their germination rates negatively effected by higher levels of irradiation, maybe a combo treatment would be better. In 2009, Japanese researchers tested a ton of different sanitation methods and here’s the one that worked the best: “Seventeen hours of dry heat followed by a 1.0-kGy dose of irradiation completely eliminated E. coli O157:H7 from radish and mung bean seeds, whereas only a minimum radiation dose of 0.25 kGy was required to completely eliminate the pathogen from broccoli and alfalfa seeds. Dry heat in combination with radiation doses of up to 1.0 kGy did not negatively impact the seed germination rate or length of alfalfa, broccoli, and radish seeds or the length of alfalfa, broccoli, and radish sprouts, but did decrease the length of mung bean sprouts.”
    The combo method could also be preferred because higher doses of irradiation was found negatively effect some nutrients while lower doses may not, although other studies found 1 2 no significant differences in nutritive qualities of irradiated sprouts compared to non-irradiated. Nutritional quality of irradiated sprouts is species and dose dependent.
    Why am I not surprised that irradiation works? And perhaps more importantly, why isn’t everyone asking why sprouts aren’t irradiated as a matter of course? It can’t be that hard to come up with protocols for irradiation, in combo with other antimicrobial methods, for each species that would kill all the bacteria yet keep high germination rates and don’t significantly reduce vitamins.
    I’ll still eat sprouts (irradiated or not) because I find them to be delicious, though I do think they should have a warning label, just like menus are required to have that “undercooked meat” warning. I like to sprout my own, although after all of this research I might develop a protocol based on the peer-reviewed research and start soaking seeds in bleach solution and/or heat treating before sprouting, especially if I’m not going to use them immediately. I would also like to see the FDA and hopefully other countries’ counterparts have more stringent rules about sprout production along with inspections, instead of just recommendations, but that’s probably not going to happen. No one’s calling for precaution about sprouts, despite the well known risks that have resulted in many deaths. I guess bacteria on sprouts aren’t as sexy as GMOs (or irradiation), they don’t stir up enough angst.
    And now for some sad lying lulz from a random website titled Healthy Eating Advisor that makes me think maybe this is all about organic vs conventional after all (emphasis and link added):

    The protective measures that the FDA is taking to assure the safety of sprouts includes bleaching sprouting seeds to kill any contaminants and irradiating sprouting seeds. Irradiation of commercially grown sprouting seeds to reduce microbial pathogens has already been approved. But beware. The sprouts grown from these seeds are not required to be labeled as irradiated. Only organically grown seeds cannot be irradiated. So if you want to be sure not to purchase irradiated seeds, make sure you get organic ones.
    Sprouts are safe for everyone. It’s the way they are handled that could cause a problem. Those related to the salmonella outbreak were commercially grown. Organic seeds have never been implicated in a single case of salmonella poisoning. Certified organic seeds are handled in a manner that minimizes any possiblity of contamination. Choosing only organically grown sprouting seeds and growing your own sprouts will give you one of the safest, healthiest, most nutritious foods available anywhere.

  12. I haven’t seen evidence – yet – that organic practices specifically had anything to do with the outbreak. It has certainly given it a lot of attention, and what people should get from this is that it means that organic should not be presumed safe, or safer, than non-organic crops merely on the basis that it is organic. Those who are critical of organic should be cautious about blaming organic practices before an investigation of the farm has determined what the causes were.
    The Washington Times article almost seemed like it was intended as satire – sort of a shoe-on-the-other-foot statement. I certainly don’t agree about a moratorium on organic. Very odd that it was pulled from the site – I’ve seen far more incendiary stuff than that go on many supposedly reputable news sites.
    Anastasia – A big win on the big comment!

  13. My statement wasn’t very clear: By saying that the three claims “are not supported by the evidence,” I was speaking generally and didn’t mean to imply that the E. coli outbreak invalidated all three of them.
    But the “safer” claim: Dead indeed.

  14. “…what people should get from this is that it means that organic should not be presumed safe, or safer, than non-organic crops merely on the basis that it is organic.”
    Thanks. This says better what I meant to say up above.

  15. If the seeds to be sprouted were grown organically, they likely were exposed via plant tissue to the pathogen. Once sprouted, they could be made safer by a chlorine rinse before packaging. However, that would mean instant loss of organic status.
    Organic farmers are prohibited from using modern germ control, so it’s easy to decide whether conventional is safer than organic.

  16. This is the link.
    Its the best scientific document and most of to date on this topic.
    It should be spread far and wide.
    12 June 2011 PS. I am adding a link and the text to my GMO pundit post last Friday on the EFSA report which is fabulously up to date, comprehensive and scholarly on all aspects of biology and safety (as it should be, coming from the EU food safety agency.
    There is no effective method to control EHEC E. coli contamination of fresh vegetable produce except radiation.
    EFSA – Scientific Report of EFSA: Urgent advice on STEC in vegetables
    There is a new very compete and authoritive report on pathogenic E. coli like the German outbreak type (EHEC, STEC) at the European food agency EFSA website. It is required reading for any serious discussion of how these outbreaks could be managed. But this from page 22 jumps out at you:
    However it has to be noticed that in particular HACCP may be a risk management tool difficult to implement as no true Critical Control Point for fresh produce can be identified, unless methods permitting an important pathogen reduction on fresh fruits and vegetables such as irradiation (EFSA, 2011b) would be used.
    Urgent advice on the public health risk of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli in fresh vegetables
    EFSA Journal 2011;9(4):2133 [50 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2274
    Routine radiation treatment to kill germs, as used for medical instruments for every hospital, could have prevented the deaths and disease in Germany, but just wasn’t used.
    That’s only 30 unnecessary deaths and 600 unnecessary HUS victims. Go figure.

  17. I don’t necessarily always agree with Sharon, but I’ll generally trust her description of techniques – is this innacurate (I’d guess from other comments on this thread that it probably isn’t) – as this was the piece of her article I was specifically referring to – if the description is accurate then the only conclusion I could draw is that sprouts are inherently risky due to their growing conditions and not organic techniques.

  18. David,
    I had read in an article yesterday (I can’t find it again for the life of me, sorry) that the O104:H4 likely evolved in the gut of humans. I believe the article quoted someone from the university of muenster(?? not sure about this, sorry again). They gave no reason as to why this was assumed; how would one make this determination from the information available? My knowledge of genetics is limited, so I am really just wondering if there are any good reasons to make that assumption, and if not, what would one look for to determine the likely mammal of origin?
    I have, of course, also heard lots of claims from the organic community that this is obviously from some antibiotics abusing CAFO. I’m skeptical as europe (sensibly) banned antibiotics for use as growth promoters some time ago. I am basically looking for good information on this and was hoping you could shed some light.
    I would think this would be relevant as the question now seems to be: how did the e.coli get on the sprout farm?(which we, of course, may never know)
    And thanks for the updates and analysis on the fascinating work on the genome.

  19. Do you remember what happened when the Obama administration floated the idea of Osterholm (awesome public health guy from Minn) to a position in the administration? Here’s one sample, but I saw worse lies spread by foodies:
    Food Democracy Now! sent out a call to arms that flat out lied about an article that Osterholm was quoted in to misrepresent him–it was a quote about the peanut crisis, actually.
    Just the other day I asked Marion Nestle why she thinks that irradiation is not worth pursuing. Funny, I’m not getting an answer… http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/06/the-german-e-coli-outbreak-questions-and-answers/240124/
    What’s she’s saying is like saying: well, there’s no need for soap later if we do something earlier….???

  20. Unfortunately this statement by Prof. Helge Karch, Director of the Institute of Hygiene in Münster
    only seems to exist in German, so I’ll summarise the most important bit: ‘Within the serotype 0104 there are three known antigen types (H7, H12, H21) which produce Shiga toxins and have been found in animals (sheep, cow). Contrary to this, a fourth type (H4) and the sequence type 678 within the serotype 0104, i.e. the current strain, has never been found in animals to this current day. It might have jumped the species barrier in very recent times, and although we consider this to be unlikely, our colleague Prof. Lothar Wieler in Berlin is currently looking into this’, says Karch.
    For those who can read German, there is more here:
    otherwise for a summary in English see this:
    The sprout farm does not have livestock and does not use manure or any other animal-based products anywhere on the farm. So it is indeed a very good question how the E. coli got there in the first place.

  21. I think you are right that the comments came from Muenster. They are quite credible. The best German Microbiologists are very good at the science. EAEC strains (which your current epidemic strain is) typically are found causing illness in children in developing countries. We don’t have to look for animals to explain this. A human reservoir is quite plausible.
    I my judgement, a plausible scenario is that the sick worker at the farm contaminated the bean seed before they sprouted, and that she got the germ working with manure, or from children she plays with. But there are many similar ones. We will probably never know how exactly it got there, or how it evolved, but the point of the known science is we have no need for conspiracy theories or bizarre novel practices to explain the emergence of this germ. It’s just doing just what its numerous sisters have done before. Caputure new genes. It has special tools do do that – natural tools. Its genome betrays a past record of massive new gene aquisition as do all well studied pathogenic E. coli. E. coli is famous for doing that, and there is a defined scientific name for the new genes. They are called genomic islands or pathogenicity islands PAI. There are currently 330 scientific papers about E. coli PAI http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=PAI%20Escherichia%20coli. See for yourself at the link I just added.
    What is very clear is that Gert Hahne of the consumer protection office “can’t punish someone for having bad luck” and the farm manager “can’t understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together” are incompetent, arguably criminally so. Sprouts are a known health risk. Bill Marler rightly called for warnings on packages in 2000. Go to Bill Marlers websites by googling Marler and E. coli. The organickers are fond of labelling, so you should get their help to get warning labels about faecal pathogens on risky produce.
    Well usually the organic community are wrong, but they have a point. But they are just as bad as Hahne, even worse. Antibiotics are just a small part of the risks. Their PR-spin on this reeks of unconscious diversion to avoid guilt about a vile disaster. They avoid applying a “precautionary principle” to their own processes. Massive use of manure can only spread more around and promote evolution of new ones , and it is impossible to assure all the pathogens are killed and contained. You cannot assure killing by composting either. Persistance of germs within the plants themselves (where they cannot be washed off) is well established, and the promotion of organic grown fresh vegetable may have selected for E. coli that are good at doing this– the organics (BIOs, agroeco zealots ) have unintentionally set up an ecological cycle to possibly promote the emergence of this germ.They are found of accusing others, and now its time to apply their own reasoning to themselves. And as they say “lack of scientific certainty is no reason to delay taking action”. How many times have you heard them say that. How many times have they said it during this outbreak?

  22. Machine translation with google Chrome browser.
    EHEC outbreak strain: Prof. Karch suspected the man as a reservoir
    Three Stefan Sing Office of Corporate Communications
    University Hospital Münster
    10.06.2011 08:56
    “That would not be the first time” / HUSEC041 has a comparably high acid resistance as classical EHEC types
    Münster (UKM / dre). On several levels, scientists at the Medical Faculty of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (WWU) Münster to Prof. Dr. Helge Karch, Institute of Hygiene of the University Hospital Münster (UKM), the current outbreak of EHEC strain HUSEC041 (O104: H4) in this decipher more weeks. Particularly the question of what to natural reservoir of intestinal bacteria in the center: “At this point in time it is and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) absence of evidence that were found to HUSEC041 associated EHEC isolates of the human in animals and they colonize permanently can. The pathogen is now spreading so far been demonstrated only in humans. This also applies to closely related strains with him, showing the enteroaggregativen genotype and phenotype and Shiga toxin production. HUSEC041 is not the only tribe in the 42 strains HUSEC comprehensive reference collection at the Institute of Hygiene, which has these features. In addition, we have already in 1998 together with colleagues from France and Italy strains described an outbreak of HUS, formed in the entereoaggregative E. coli (EAEC) Shiga Toxin 2. ”
    The current outbreak strain and the ten-year-old HUSEC041, but other strains from the HUSEC reference strain collection show the same Adärenzmuster (“adhesion patterns”) to intestinal cells. Even outside of the body they stick to any surface, because they are excellent biofilm. “To speak the current outbreak strain of a new development, I think, therefore, not appropriate,” said Prof. Karch.
    At this stage must be assumed that the outbreak strain has a reservoir in humans. “Within the serogroup O104 us are three H-antigen types (H7, H12, H21) known to produce Shiga toxins present in animals (sheep, cattle). In contrast, a fourth type of scourge (H4) and the sequence type 678 is within the O104 serogroup, which is the current outbreak strain HUSEC041 however, found to date has never been in animals. Or he has only recently exceeded the species barrier and has passed to animals. This is unlikely, but is currently clarified by my colleague Prof. Lothar Wieler in Berlin again, “says Karch.
    In view of the propagation pattern of the disease cases in Germany it is almost ruled out that the infection takes place only through contact from person to person through the grease infections. Karch: “It must rather be assumed that other infectious agents, for example, have been contaminated by human faeces, have a meaning. These possible sources of infection must of course be found. That would not be the first time at a EHEC: Because he can, like many other enteritis pathogens, are introduced via human feces in the environment. ”
    The EHEC specialist from Munster points out: “Currently over Germany working experts in their respective fields together closely, so skills are pooled and combined. It was structured in different expert teams that work together closely. “This includes an expert team of the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology (VAH), headed by Prof. Karch for the depuration period in patients an antibiotic team of experts and the expert team of water. The results of these studies will be replaced immediately and disseminated to all participating institutions.
    Currently running in Muenster the comparison of genome sequences of HUSEC041 isolates from the years 2011 and 2001, and further extensive studies. Already it is clear that the current agents of a “classical” EHEC very low pH values ​​(2.5 to 3.5) at least two hours tolerated. This means that, unlike the normal acid barrier as salmonella can survive the human stomach and probably cause a few germs of infection and the disease can.
    More results are expected in the coming days. “Our results will be informed immediately as before the public,” said Prof. Karch.
    Laboratory information to developed in Münster EHEC confirmatory test remains under the homepage: http://www.ehec.org freely available.
    Chronology of works at the Institute of Hygiene in Münster
    Since 23 May is the study of EHEC pathogen in the heart of the work in the Institute of Hygiene: On this day in the morning was received the first stool sample. On 25 May onward, scientists from the cathedral until then the world very rare strain HUSEC041: identify a current outbreak strain (O104 H4, ST 678).
    In the following days, the researchers developed a specific for this strain confirmation test that detects within four hours of infection with the outbreak strain or exclude and 30 from May, a can be used. The purpose necessary test protocols and laboratory information was released immediately on http://www.ehec.org. The test does not only the current outbreak strain from other closely related Shiga toxin-producing EHEC serogroup O104 with the H-antigens, H2, H7, H12, H21, but also from all other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, other pathotypes diarrheagenic E . coli and E. coli normal flora.
    In the night of 2 Of June, before the genome sequencing of the outbreak strain in 2011 in Münster. Three days later, on 5 June was the sequencing of an isolate belonging to HUSEC041 from the year 2001.
    For more information:
    http://www.ehec.org – Website with information on laboratory-confirmed EHEC test
    Criteria of this press release:
    Journalists, anyone
    Society, medicine
    Research / knowledge transfer, research

  23. Also this for the second link
    Man with EHEC O104: H4 in the
    HUSEC041 are not in animals
    The current outbreak strain and the already identified ten years ago HUSEC041 trunk show like the other 42 strains from the reference collection HUSEC same pattern of attachment to intestinal cells. With the help of their excellent functioning biofilm, they can also outside the body attached to all surfaces. “To speak the current outbreak strain of a new development, I therefore consider to be inappropriate,” said Prof. Dr. Helge Karch hygiene scientists from the Medical Faculty of the University of Münster.
    Karch and his colleagues had the EHEC bacterium on 25 May 2011 as HUSEC041 (O104: H4) were identified and later this week further decoded. It was the “natural reservoir” of the intestinal bacteria can be detected only in humans. Animals are apparently not able to colonize the bacteria permanently. This also applies to him closely related strains, which are intestinal damage and produce the toxin Shiga toxin. HUSEC041 is not the only tribe in the HUSEC reference collection at the Institute of Hygiene, which has these features. “In addition, we have already 1998, together with colleagues from France and Italy strains described an outbreak of HUS in the enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) Shiga toxin formed 2”, stated Karch. The current strain is HUSEC041 found to date has never been in animals. He would then only recently have crossed the barrier, which keeps Karch, however unlikely. However, this was currently in Berlin of Prof. Dr. Lothar Wieler (Institute of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Free University) clarified. News in Münster, among other studies, the genome sequences of HUSEC isolates from the years 2011 and 2001 will be cross-checked.
    The way to explore how the infection spread to Germany do, only an infection from person to person is unlikely. It should rather be assumed that contamination occurs, for example through human feces into question, as with many pathogens also come from the gut into the environment. This means in plain English, that found in Lower Saxony shoots as well as cucumbers, lettuce and other vegetables as raw food may indeed be triggered by HUS and EHEC infections, but with respect to the source in question are not the cause. Assuming that the findings from Münster are correct, the whole matter becomes a question of evolution and the immune system.
    Evolution has seen in the human body apparently developed a new bacterium with properties that the human immune system is still delivered relatively helpless. The excellent adhesive properties of EHEC bacteria ensure that even thorough washing – can be one or the other bacteria left – such as vegetables. Because it is highly contagious at the same time, which may already be sufficient for infection. The dilemma could be to ensure the destruction of the bacteria by heating or its removal by hygienic measures the body may take the opportunity to set out the immune system. (Kws)

  24. “They avoid applying a “precautionary principle” to their own processes.”
    A simple but profound statement.
    It has occurred to me the the “precautionary principle” is simply an instance of bigotry: It is invoked selectively. If one has an inherent, irrational bias (against GMOs, say) then one invokes the “well what if there’s something we don’t know” clause as a peremptory measure.
    But then this same person will buy organic sprouts, consume raw milk, strap one’s boy child into a speeding automobile, dress him in a football uniform, send him out onto the field….

  25. I was just talking with some people about precautionary principle yesterday, and one concept that kept coming up was control. If you think you have control of something, even if the risk is known to be large (such as smoking), then the fear associated with that thing is low. If you think you have no control over something, even if the risk is very very tiny (such as pieces of satellite debris crashing down on your house), then the fear associated with that thing can be very high. It is those high fear things that people want to apply the precautionary principle to. Mix in the widely held naturalistic fallacy and we have the completely irrational fear of “unnatural” things that have been shown to be safe and the completely irrational perception of safety for “natural” things that have been shown to be quite dangerous. Now, what do we do about this?

  26. They don’t use any manure at the farm and don’t keep any animals, so I would think it is quite unlikely that the worker contaminated seeds in this way. It is not established whether it was a farm worker who contaminated a seed or whether maybe one of the batches of seeds they used were contaminated beforehand. I think the awareness that the latter can be the case is probably way too low, and only because a farm has produced sprouts for 25 years and nothing happened, this does not mean it won’t happen one day. As has been pointed out before, in this respect organic sprout farming does seem inherently more dangerous than non-organic because it does not allow you to disinfect seeds.

  27. This is a fascinating issue. Dick Taverne beats up the PP quite ably in “The March of Unreason,” a whole book devoted to refuting the claims of “organic” farmers and anti-GMO zealots.
    There’s also an interesting look at the PP here in the context of reputed cancers caused by cell phones:
    I like to quote from a reader comment at the end of that piece:
    “[Y]ou can’t mine information from a seam of ignorance. If we don’t know whether mobile phones cause cancer, then we also don’t know whether they prevent or delay cancer or have some other as yet undiscovered benefit.”

  28. Martina’s remark about disinfecting seeds reminds me of Greenpeace’ successful 1991 campaign to ban chlorine for drinking water in Peru. The result was an outbreak of cholera, leaving 8,500 dead.
    Makes the German event seem comparatively trivial.

  29. Thanks so much David and Martina for the info and links, what a great resource this website is!

  30. David,
    I find it hard to believe that the the owner of the farm “can’t understand how the processes we have here and the accusations could possibly fit together”. If three of his ten employees were violently ill with dysentery (one so bad she had part of her intestine removed) a month ago, and then the rest of northern Germany comes down with the same thing, how could one not put two and two together? I would think simple civic responsibility would compel one to alert the health authorities, no?
    Furthermore, if such a large amount of bacteria were produced to create such a large outbreak, I would suspect that some of that material would remain if the operators of the farm were, indeed, completely ignorant of its existence. I think it suspicious that absolutely none could be found on the farm. (this is, of course, only my assumption, and could be wrong)
    I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this with more knowledge of pathogens than I possess.

  31. Where did you find the information about how ill the staff were? The German press articles which I have seen all reported that the two employees that tested positive recently had no symptoms at all. I can’t remember what exactly they said about the first person but it sounded like mild symptoms.

  32. Martina,
    It was from this spiegel article of a few days ago:
    “Reuters reported that a local doctor said a worker at the farm had become severely ill with E. coli and had part of her intestine removed. The 54-year-old woman developed bloody diarrhea followed by serious blood disorders.”
    Maybe I have misread the timeline, correct me if you interpret it otherwise. I have also since read in a comment at Marion Nestle’s blog that the farm was tested much earlier in the outbreak, but those tests were also negative. That comment is the only place I have seen that, though, so I am not sure how reliable it is. Has anyone else heard this?
    Thanks again for your info and link to the foodsafety article.

  33. Isaac,
    You might be interested to learn that lab experiments using Alzheimer’s mice showed that exposure to cell phone radiation actually reversed some of the damage caused by Alzheimer’s. Does this mean that some of us will shortly be wearing hats with little broadcast units in them? Don’t hold your breath, the FDA is death on medical devices.

  34. Eric,
    Thanks, I had not heard this.
    A sad anecdote from my own life illustrating the complete uselesness of the precautionary principle:
    A good friend of mine in college died of asphyxiation from his seat belt when his car rolled over following a tire blowout. Had he not been wearing his seat belt, he would have walked away unharmed. The precautionary principle would have had us refrain from implementing mandatory seat belt regulations in order to avoid tragedies such as this. The result would have been millions more deaths from auto accidents.

  35. The case of the sick #EHEC E. coli outbreak strain infected women (? relying on my brain memory, need to confirm) at the farm was the reason for my suggestion that she (rather than the seeds) is a plausible explanation of the primary cause of the outbreak in light of the known probable association of EAEC with humans. I’m really glad Isaac pointed it out. There is so much traffic on this topic though(which I am trying to follow), it’s hard to remember where the information is. I’m trying to update the posts or the comments with the more important stuff.

  36. I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that most farm workers, including this woman, had eaten sprouts from the farm.
    One also has to take into account that the first case onset date, according to the WHO, was 1 May.
    I don’t know for how long this woman was ill before her operation, and I don’t know how big the variation in incubation time is, but does it really seem likely that she would have been the source of infection for sprouts that somebody ate several days before 1 May?

  37. Hmmm. Very interesting remark Martina. We’ll probably have to wait a fair bit before we get all these details. I have now change my call to “open verdict”, but still flag this issue (obviously) as a key critical fact we need to keep on the table.

  38. From a Ben Goldacre tweet we have a great video that completely closes the case on the idiocy of the PP in an emotional sense:

    bike lanes
    This shows the power of images, sound, and brilliant humor trumps logical scholarly analysis any day. It just may be the most important statement on the rigid use of regulation ever.
    Well at least the last day or so.
    Its only got 2.5 million viewings, while this site has got , how many thousands is it now?…..

  39. Crrection it was a Skepic Tweet. But this correction does allow me to urge people the follow both Ben and the Skeptic Mag on twitter:
    @TheSkepticMag The Skeptic Magazine
    How far would you go to make a point about common sense? http://cot.ag/m2l1kr This guy deserves respect.

  40. Great new comments from Wayne Parrot about radiation and chlorine use in organic farming have been added to the main post.
    I will clean up the typos there in a minnit!.

  41. The BfR has issued a press release (not available in English on their website yet but probably will be soon)
    saying that epidemiological research points towards contaminated seeds. There is a case of a family in Lower Saxony where the suspected cause of infection is home-grown sprouts. The seeds are being tested.

  42. Further discussion on the radiation topic
    When Precaution Trumps Public Safety Matt Ridley WSJ Jun 11 2011
    A technology that might have prevented contaminated produce from infecting thousands of Germans with E. coli was vetoed—by Germany—11 years ago for use in the European Union. Irradiating food with high-voltage electrons is a process that can kill bacteria on or in solid objects, just as pasteurization can kill them in liquid foods….continues

  43. Thanks for the news clip, Martina. I just came across it myself minutes ago. It seems that there may still be a farm connection, an ultimate source of the E. coli, and that the sprout outbreak happened because it provided such a good environment for growth of the bacteria.

  44. Irradiation with high energy electrons might be ideal for seeds. The electrons have higher penetrating power than UV, but not as much as X-rays or gammas.
    With seeds you want a high dose where the bacteria might be, but not a high dose where the viable embryo is.
    Ions might be even better.
    In the US, any kind of manure can be used and it is still “organic”, even manure from animals that have been fed high levels of antibiotics. I am not sure if that is the case in Germany. Antibiotic residues in soil should disqualify a farm from being considered “organic”.

  45. Well before this outbreak, and I mean years, I refused to consume uncooked sprouts, or premade salads in a bag. You look at the situation and you just *know* there’s microbes which could easily inhabit those things and there’s no guarantee they’re the ‘friendly’ types. Putting raw vegetables of any sort in an airtight plastic bag is begging for trouble. Greenhouse for germs.
    And when the vegetables come from a feces-based production system, well, the risks are too obvious to require explanation.

  46. Feces based production as hazard would mean: stop all bio-waste cycle and burn it.
    In Germany the biowaste(food remnants) is composted or brought to biogas-plants (>6800 mainly in Lower Saxonia or North) max temp of processing 42 C.
    Stop Biogas plant sediments applicaton in agriculture unless they have been patseurized.
    Douple blind study on organic farming and bio hazards.
    We havent observed EHEC problems on this scale yet.
    I would see a combination of biowaste cycle, generous use of copper salts in organic farming, biogasplants sediments and negligence as a formidable EHEC environment.
    All this lethal consequences we could have avoided by staying up to date in farming, which is by the actual political situation not possible.
    A broader look on farming in northern Germany reveals either there is corn for biogas or intense cattle farming. Pastures are reduced dramatically in favour of corn. There is an overload of hazardous mono culture with no genetic engineering.
    BT is prohibited!

  47. Scientists Pitch in to Help Keep Salad Mixes Safe to Eat
    USDA – ARS
    June 14, 2011
    Mechanical cutting of lettuce leaves into large pieces or shredding of leaves into narrow strips, like those in taco filling, breaks lettuce cells, explains Brandl. The broken cells exude carbohydrates, which the microbe can use as a source of energy. But injured cells can also leak natural compounds such as antimicrobials that are problematic for the pathogen.
    A study with romaine lettuce that Brandl and her coinvestigators published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2010 showed that E. coli, when exposed in lab tests to the contents of broken lettuce leaf cells, can adapt quickly. Using an approach known as microarray-based whole genome transcriptional profiling, the researchers determined that the pathogen uses its genetic arsenal to protect itself against not only the antimicrobial compounds, but also against oxidative stress, osmotic stress, damage to its DNA and other threats to its ability to survive and multiply.
    The investigation–the first to provide extensive details about the biology of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh-cut lettuce–has paved the way for followup experiments that Brandl and coworkers hope will lead to new technologies to overcome the pathogen’s defenses.

  48. Salad and vegetables in bags are very common in the Netherlands. The cattle population is higher than the number of dutch inhabitants. There is one point where the dutch agriculture differs from german: organic farming is not common in the Netherlands.

  49. Machine translation
    EHEC outbreak: BfR advises against the consumption of well-grown raw sprouts and seedlings
    018/2011, 06.12.2011
    Growing evidence that seeds for sprouts and seedlings with EHEC bacterial strain is
    Epidemiological evidence of the Lower Saxony authorities have confirmed the suspicion that the seeds sprout sprouts cause could have contributed to the contamination. Lower Saxony reported a recent case in which home-grown sprouts are the cause of EHEC disease in a family might. However, the pathogen was not yet proven to be the seeds in. At home draw shoots himself to be, as usual. The breeding tanks are available in many stores. “If you already have the seeds are loaded with germs, it also protects the compliance of food hygiene rules are not in front of a EHEC disease,” said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “For precautionary reasons, therefore, recommends the BfR , currently on the consumption of raw sprouts themselves drawn to renounce. ”
    BfR , BVL and RKI have on Friday, 10 June 2011 recommended that, beyond the usual hygiene measures, but also, further precaution raw sprouts not to eat up. Scientists at the National Reference Laboratory for Escherichia coli at the BfR have now also confirmed that EHEC contaminated raw sprouts, from the household with an ill patient to EHEC in England came to the same as the strain of bacteria from the diseased patients.
    The federal and state authorities are working flat out to continue the pathway for contamination of sprouts and may pursue return of seeds with EHEC. Given the available data on supply lists and distribution channels, cases of disease, etc. extensively evaluated and completed. By analysis of clusters of disease outbreaks and clusters of suspicious findings provide hope for food, experts explain the outbreak events and close to the source of the pathogen can be. The diagnostic laboratories of countries and the National Reference Laboratory are currently received seed samples.
    About BfR
    The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment ( BfR ) is a research unit within the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection ( BMELV ). It advises the federal government and the states on issues of food, chemicals and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics closely related to its assessment tasks are the.
    end bfr-p

  50. Thomas,
    There’s another disposal option: using fecal waste to feed algae farms which produce biofuels. This could use both ag and sewer as inputs. This tech is in the works.

  51. I doubt very much that one sprout farm caused this epidemic. A multifactorial setting has to be considered.

  52. If the nitrate level in lettuce were increased, that would tend to inhibit E coli in the cut lettuce. E coli reduce nitrate to nitrite and at low pH that nitrite disproportionates to NO and NO2. NO is oxidized to NO2 by the O2 in air. When silage is made, lactic acid bacteria generate lactic acid and generate silo gases by this mechanism. The NO2 generated in silos is what makes fresh silage so dangerous. A single breath of silo gas can be fatal.
    NO does inhibit expression of virulence factors by many bacteria. Many lactic acid bacteria also generate hydrogen peroxide. The combination of nitrite, lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide is ~100 times more microbicidal than either agent alone.

  53. That why we eat “Sauerkraut” and the turko-tartars love to drink kefir.
    But what about nitrit and haemoglobin destruction at children/babies?

  54. Eric,
    Algea need a warm environment. In deep freez Europe (3 -4 month below zero in winter) this could be a problem . The other point would be the energetic efficiency or balance(1). I suupose strongly that You have to put more energy in an algea processing unit thant You get out of it?
    1.Howard C Haydenn, The Solar fraud

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