Saturday, May 28, 2011


There has been an outbreak of deadly foodborne bacteria in the European food market. It's one of the most dangerous E.coli - a bacteria which we usually associate with meat. And, the culprit food? Those innocent-looking cucumbers - organic ones. On May 26, the European Commission triggered its Rapid Alert System, which is does not happen very often.

It seems that the cucumbers originated in provinces of Almeria and Malaga in Spain and were exported. Many of the illnesses have occurred in Germany. Spain is one of Germany's largest suppliers of cucumbers (accounting for about 40% of all cucumbers imported). As of today, probably at least ten Germans have died of the infection, and hundreds are seriously ill with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Not everyone who gets a case of E.coli-caused foodborne illness will get complications of HUS. Maybe one out of ten, or even less. Usually it will develop in people who are weaker - such as children and the elderly. HUS affects the kidneys, other body organs and sometimes even the brain. It requires hospitalization, and can be fatal. I should know. I almost died of it - although not from these cucumbers.

These cases of cucumber-related foodborne illness have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Netherlands, many of them among people who had travelled to Germany. People in other European countries which import cucumbers, such as Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Luxemburg, are also becoming very nervous. Oddly, no illnesses have been reported in Spain. (Send your deadly food overseas!). There is also a possibility that lettuce, and maybe tomatoes may be contaminated as well.

My advice if you live in one of the countries that imports cucumbers from Spain: toss out any still in your home. If you have already eaten some of these raw cucumbers recently, don't panic. It is very unlikely that every cucumber will carry enough bacteria to make you ill. But watch out for symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, weakness, stomach cramps. If you do become ill and don't get better in a few days, and particularly if you have bloody diarrhea, go and see your doctor.

UPDATE: Cucumbers were mistakenly identified as the culprit food by the German investigators, and too quickly announced to the public by the officials. It turned out to be locally grown sprouts.

To your good health!



Anonymous said...

We don't know yet if the contamination comes from Spain, let's see in a few days

Tim Sly said...

Please avoid unnecessary panic at this stage. These types of E. coli (and there are several) are a contaminant on the surface, and should be easily washed off - as we should be doing in any case with vegetables and fruit that we eat raw.
AVOID raw milk for the same reason.
T.S., Epidemiologist, Ryerson University.

Anonymous said...

Cook all the vegys now.. do not eat raw, do not take a chance.. cooking kills the bacteria so it makes em safe to eat.. BB

Anonymous said...

Poor cocumbers, they are no longer the bad guys, but their farmers are probably gone down the drains, What happened to the traceability requirements Europe imposes onto the farmers from overseas? do the local farmers have to comply as well or not?? Why is it so difficult to find the actar source of contamination? Check the supermarket Pao de Acucar in Brazil, their food traceability program - amazing: