Fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt are the most likely source of recent pathogenic E.coli outbreaks in France, Germany, and several other countries that have killed 49 people, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced yesterday in a report from its Task Force.
The so-called enterohemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC) strain produces Shiga toxins that cause intestinal inflammation and bloody diarrhea. The rare strain (O104) of the E. coli bacterium first emerged in May of this year in Germany and, though the number of new cases is decreasing, has since infected nearly 4,200 people in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. After fifteen new cases of the rare infection sprung up in France, a joint investigation by EFSA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Commission, the World Health Organization and others traced the source of the bacteria to at least one lot of Fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt. Research is on-going, however, and other sources may be identified, the report noted.
Until further evidence can be gathered, EFSA recommends that consumers do not grow fenugreek seeds for raw consumption or otherwise consume them unless they are well-cooked. The European Union has ordered member states to withdraw fenugreek seed lots delivered between 2009 and 2011 from the EU market and has banned their import from Egypt until at least the end of October.
In related news, the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota reports that a company known to distribute fenugreek seeds was initially named in an ECDC risk assessment report published on June 29, but has now been removed. "Some key partners involved felt that it may unnecessarily harm the company to publish its name while the investigations are still ongoing,” explained ECDC spokeswoman Caroline Daamen in an email to the university.