Dangers of organic produce: the German beansprouts kill at least 48 in 2011

For reference, the May-June 2011 food poisoning outbreak killed at least 48 (in Germany; I’ve not researched the outcomes of affected travelers). The German panic was caused by organic bean sprouts – the Lower Saxony farm has been shut down. The lethality of the sprouts is attributed to an enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) strain that had acquired the genes to produce Shiga toxins.

Here is a snippet of the Wikipedia reference “2011 Germany E. coli O104:H4 outbreak“:

Epidemiological fieldwork suggested fresh vegetables were the source of infection. The agriculture minister of Lower Saxony identified an organic farm[2] in Bienenbüttel, Lower Saxony, Germany, which produces a variety of sprouted foods, as the likely source of the E. coli outbreak.[3] The farm has since been shut down.[3] Although laboratories in Lower Saxony did not detect the bacterium in produce, a laboratory in North Rhine-Westphalia later found the outbreak strain in a discarded package of sprouts from the suspect farm.[4] A control investigation confirmed the farm as the source of the outbreak.[5] On 30 June 2011 the German Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment), an institute of the GermanFederal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection), announced that seeds of fenugreek imported from Egypt were likely the source of the outbreak.[6]

In addition to Germany, where 3,785 cases and 48 deaths had been reported by the end of the outbreak,[7] a handful of cases were reported in several countries including Switzerland,[7] Poland,[7] the Netherlands,[7] Sweden,[7] Denmark,[7]the UK,[7][8] Canada[9] and the USA.[9][10] Essentially all affected people had been in Germany or France shortly before becoming ill.

David Tribe has been following the case, including here and here, where I obtained this update:

The E. coli (O104) outbreak is responsible for 48 deaths in Germany and one in Sweden. The total number of cases reported in the EU, Norway and Switzerland is 4,178.

As always, David offers thorough references. One from July 7, 2011 by Maryn McKenna that is accessible to the non-scientist is “E. coli: A Risk for 3 More Years From Who Knows Where”.