Sunday, May 29, 2011


The large outbreak of foodborne illness in Europe caused by Enterohemorrhagic E.coli 0104:H4 (EHEC) has been attributed to contaminated organic cucumbers imported from Spain. But keep an open mind. It could be another fresh vegetable as well, one such as tomatoes or lettuce.

In fact, German authorities have advised people to be careful when eating any of these vegetables raw. Why? Well, at least one study of women who had become ill (adult women are the main victims) found that a slightly higher percentage had eaten raw tomatoes than had eaten cucumbers in the preceding days. Lettuce also scored well in this survey.

So why were cucumbers pinpointed as the culprit vegetable? Actual testing did find the identical EHEC bacteria to be present in those imported whole cucumbers. To date, no testing has turned it up in tomatoes or in lettuce. But that doesn't mean it won't be found tomorrow, or in a week's time.

It wouldn't be the first time that the initial identification of a culprit food wasn't quite accurate. This happened with a large outbreak of Salmonella illnesses (Salmonellosis) in the United States in 2008. For weeks tomatoes were believed to be the cause, but later it was found that the culprit vegetable was Jalapeno and Serrano peppers (with "maybe" tomatoes as well). In other incidents strawberries have been blamed when it was actually raspberries. And so on. Nor is it impossible that more than one fresh vegetable is involved. This is quite likely if they came from the same farm or even the same area. The same improperly prepared organic fertilizer, E.coli 0104:H4 contaminated irrigation or processing water, or even packing ice could have been used.

So yes, if you live in Germany, and especially Northern Germany (where most of the illnesses have occurred) or are visiting there, I would avoid all three of these fresh vegetables for a little longer, until the investigation comes up with more answers. Washing may help a bit, but it may not work completely.

To your good health,

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