E. coli outbreak in Germany in June 2011

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Toxic sludge 80px.png

WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

An E. coli outbreak in Germany in June 2011 was traced to E. coli O104:H4, a different strain of E. coli from the one that typically causes major food safety outbreaks.[1] The outbreak, caused by contaminated sprouts, killed 39 people, while sickening 3,517 and causing life-threatening kidney disease (hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS) in 839, as of Friday, June 16, 2011.[2] While E. coli O104:H4 is transmitted via human feces, Germany does not allow the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer on food crops.[3] The sewage sludge industry noted the outbreak with concern about public perceptions of the safety of using sewage sludge on food crops.[4]

E. coli and Sprouts

According to food safety expert Marion Nestle:[5]

"Sprouts... are a prime suspect in microbial outbreaks. They have been implicated in many outbreaks in the United States. This is because sprouts are sprouted from minute seeds that are hard to clean...
"As Food Safety News explains in a long discussion of this problem, the seeds need to be dumped in bleach to kill bacteria. It’s also a really good idea to test the wash water to make sure it is free of pathogens.
"The seeds are sprouted in water at room temperature, “a warm, moist climate — just perfect for a bacteria’s social life and subsequent reproduction.”
"The FDA has been aware of this problem for a long time, as shown by this brief chronology:
  • 1999: The FDA issued “nonbinding guidance” on growing sprouts. This caused the ever-vigilant Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to file a petition arguing that guidance rules for sprouts needed to be mandatory.
  • 2004: The FDA wrote a “note” to producers and shippers of sprouts stating that it was aware of 27 outbreaks of microbial illness due to sprouts and urging producers to follow the voluntary guidance procedures.
  • 2004: The FDA followed up by issuing safety guidance for growing sprouts in retail establishments. These were voluntary, of course.
  • 2004: California health officials produced a slide presentation on the hazards of sprout production, urging producers to follow safety guidelines.
  • 2005: The FDA announced public meeting to discuss the science of safe production of sprouts as a basis for beginning a rulemaking process for mandatory safety procedures.
  • 2009: The FDA issued a warning about consuming alfalfa sprouts.
"The Food Safety Modernization act passed last year finally gives FDA the authority to require food safety controls for sprouts."

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. James Andrews, O104:H4 May Change How We Deal With E. coli, Food Safety News, June 16, 2011, Accessed June 19, 2011.
  2. Gretchen Goetz, "Germany's E. coli Outbreak: A Global Lesson," Food Safety News, June 18, 2011, Accessed June 19, 2011.
  3. The global resurgence of infectious diseases, June 7, 2011, Accessed June 19, 2011.
  4. Diane Garvey, "European E. coli Outbreak and the Implications for the Biosolids Sector," Biosolids Blog, June 15, 2011, Accessed June 22, 2011.
  5. Marion Nestle, "The science and politics of E. coli in sprouts," Food Politics, June 11, 2011, Accessed June 22, 2011.

External Resources

  • E. coli, Centers for Disease Control

External Articles