Saturday, May 28, 2011


At the moment there seems to be a distinct possibility that the European Union could fall apart over cucumbers. I am not serious, of course, but the current E.coli contamination of cucumbers from Spain is certainly creating some tensions. Germany is blaming Spain for sending them deadly cucumbers. The Spanish authorities are saying "it's not us" and "this isn't our kind of bacteria." There are even some reports - which may not be true -that a source of cucumbers in the Netherlands is also involved. The Dutch authorities are denying any connection.

The bottom line: we don't know yet at what point in time or even in which country the bacteria got into the culprit cucumbers. Normally, in the case of a whole (that is, not cut up) vegetable such as a cucumber, one would suspect contamination at the farm level. It could be that the organic fertilizer was not properly treated, that the water used in irrigation was contaminated, or that the bacteria were in the soil. Of course, they could also have entered during washing (from contaminated water) or packing or transportation.

One argument that in my opinion does not hold much water is that of the agriculture minister of Spain, who is basically saying that because the strain of E.coli involved is very rare in Spain, the contamination could not have originated there. Just a moment - a strain can be rare and then suddenly it is everywhere. With microorganisms such as bacteria it happens all the time.

The culprit cucumber shipment has been destroyed and investigation is ongoing. But it could take weeks, even months, to get all the answers. But one thing we do know is that at some point the bacteria originated in animal feces. This kind of enterohemorrhagic E.coli can come from farm animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. Wild animals roaming the fields such as rabbits may also carry it. They would not show symptoms of disease, but would shed it in their feces.

UPDATE: This was a misidentification. Cucumbers were later eliminated as the suspect. Considerable hardship resulted for innocent farmers all over Europe, and especially in Spain.

To your good health!

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