The lethal elephant in the room: Real risks in our food

posted in: Food, News, Syndicated | 50

Even as speculation about imaginary risks of GM foods continues, particularly among some organic sector enthusiasts, real food risks in the food chain remain unmanaged.

Exposure of fresh vegetable produce to manure is a case in point. Pathogenic Escherichia coli are one of more frequent health dangers of fresh vegetables. These bacteria can be present in manure, and they spread in faeces and water. Tragically, banning of GM crops in Germany has not eliminated these risks.

Another death in German E. coli O104 outbreak; consumers advised to not eat fresh tomatoes, cucumbers or salad 25 May 20 11 on Barfblog by Doug Powell

Another woman died in Germany on Wednesday after being treated for infection with the virulent enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria on Wednesday, as government minister warned the situation remained “threatening.”

Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner and Health Minister Daniel Bahr called for everyone to take particular care with food hygiene at a press conference in Berlin.

Except the public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) advised this evening not to eat any tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce from northern Germany.

Sounds like an on-farm problem, not a consumer problem; needs to be prevented, isn’t going to be washed off.

The latest woman to die was a 41-year-old from Cuxhaven – although she was being treated for the symptoms of EHEC infection since May 21, her cause of death will now be investigated.

The number of people confirmed to have died in Germany from EHEC infection has reached three. But health officials said an elderly woman who died on Sunday in Stormarn, Schleswig Holstein, was not killed by the bacteria.

Outbreak Linked to Spanish Cucumbers 26 May 2011 in Der Speigel

Researchers have found the first link to the source of the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany: Spanish cucumbers. As the number of infections increase and spread outside the country, consumers are being warned to avoid certain vegetables.

Scientists at Hamburg’s Institute for Hygiene and Environment have found the deadly E. coli bacteria causing the outbreak in northern Germany, city Health Minister Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks said Thursday. Three out of four cucumbers carrying the dangerous strain of the bacteria were from an organic shipment from Spain being sold in Hamburg supermarkets.

“Information on their origins and further details are now being assembled,” she said, adding that the test results may not be relevant to infections arising in other areas. “It can’t be ruled out that other products will come into question as the source of infection,” she said… (continues at link)

For more news coverage, see: E.coli deaths continue as ministers warn of threat

Update

German E. coli O104 update: 10 dead, 276 HUS, 1000 sick 29 May 2011 from Doug Powell’s Barfblog

More women have died in Germany from an E. coli O104 outbreak linked to cucumbers grown in Spain, bringing the death toll to 10. Of the 1,000 or so sick, 276 have hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).Hospitals in the city of Hamburg, where more than 400 people are believed to have been infected, were said to be overwhelmed and sending patients to clinics elsewhere in the country.

Austria’s food safety agency ordered a recall of organically grown cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines supplied by a Spanish producer which is thought to be the source of the outbreak. It said 33 Austrian stores were affected.

According to Denmark’s National Serum Institute, there are nine confirmed cases, with at least another eight people suspected of having the intestinal infection, also known as VTEC, in Denmark.

Sweden has reported 25 E. coli cases, of whom 10 developed HUS, according to the European Commission, while Britain counted three cases (two HUS).

Officials in the Czech Republic said the cucumbers may have been exported there, as well as to Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg.

“As long as the experts in Germany and Spain have not been able to name the source of the agent without any doubt, the general warning for vegetables still holds,” German Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner said on Sunday in a report in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The European Commission says experts are now probing two agricultural sites in southern Spain, in Almeria and Malaga, suspected of exporting products, most likely cucumbers, tainted with E. coli.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/29/us-germany-ecoli-idUSTRE74S12V20110529
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/153939/20110529/germany-cucumber-e-coli.htm
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/health/2011-05/29/c_13899931.htm

German E. coli O104 update: 10 dead, 276 HUS, 1000 sick 29 May 2011 from Doug Powell’s Barfblog

More women have died in Germany from an E. coli O104 outbreak linked to cucumbers grown in Spain, bringing the death toll to 10. Of the 1,000 or so sick, 276 have hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).Hospitals in the city of Hamburg, where more than 400 people are believed to have been infected, were said to be overwhelmed and sending patients to clinics elsewhere in the country.Austria’s food safety agency ordered a recall of organically grown cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines supplied by a Spanish producer which is thought to be the source of the outbreak. It said 33 Austrian stores were affected.According to Denmark’s National Serum Institute, there are nine confirmed cases, with at least another eight people suspected of having the intestinal infection, also known as VTEC, in Denmark.Sweden has reported 25 E. coli cases, of whom 10 developed HUS, according to the European Commission, while Britain counted three cases (two HUS).Officials in the Czech Republic said the cucumbers may have been exported there, as well as to Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg.”As long as the experts in Germany and Spain have not been able to name the source of the agent without any doubt, the general warning for vegetables still holds,” German Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner said on Sunday in a report in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.The European Commission says experts are now probing two agricultural sites in southern Spain, in Almeria and Malaga, suspected of exporting products, most likely cucumbers, tainted with E. coli.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/29/us-germany-ecoli-idUSTRE74S12V20110529

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/153939/20110529/germany-cucumber-e-coli.htm

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/health/2011-05/29/c_13899931.htm

German E. coli O104 update: 14 dead, 352 HUS, 1200 sick

POSTED: MAY 30TH, 2011 – 5:54PM BY DOUG POWELL

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a risk assessment today that the HUS/STEC E. coli O104 outbreak is the largest in the world of its kind, with 14 dead, 352 with hemolytic uremic syndrome and over 1,200 sick.

German Health Minister Daniel Bahr said Monday that authorities still haven’t pinned down definitively the source of the E. coli infection — and “we unfortunately still have to expect a rising number of cases.”

An EU official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to standing regulations, said the transport chain was long, and the cucumbers from Spain could have been contaminated at any point along the route.

Spain, meanwhile, went on the defensive, saying there was no proof that the E. coli outbreak has been caused by Spanish vegetables.

You can’t attribute the origin of this sickness to Spain,” Spain’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, Diego Lopez Garrido told reporters in Brussels. “There is no proof and that’s why we are going to demand accountability from those who have blamed Spain for this matter.”

EU spokesman Frederic Vincent said Sunday that two greenhouses in Spain that were identified as the source of the contaminated cucumbers had ceased activities. The water and soil there are being analyzed to see whether they were the problem, and the results are expected Tuesday or Wednesday, Vincent said.

Update 1/06/2011 Australian time

The Spanish cucumbers have a different EHEC E.coli strain. They are not safe, but they are not the cause of the big problem. This is not good news as we know don’t yet know the cause(s) of the big EU problem. It just became a bigger problem.

Update

Glossary:

Outbreak of E. coli acronyms in Germany

CABI Blog

Germany seems to be suffering an outbreak of acronyms alongside an unusual outbreak of foodborne E. coli. Reports list the culprit as STEC, EHEC, VTEC, shiga toxin producing E. coli, verotoxin producing E. coli….They are all talking about the same thing.

Heres a quick guide to E coli diarrhoea acronyms and a summary of the outbreak plus some resources [link just above].

Pundit’s Opinion:

Human health risks from mis-managed faecal matter on vegetable produce should be put under an intense media spot-light because lack of precaution about poop really does kill.

See Chassy and Tribe 2010 for more discussion, as well as Organic salad with Salmonella, Salmonella in organic Chinese peanuts, Farm in transition to organic farming linked to spinach disaster, and other GMO Pundit posts about E. coli and Salmonella.

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.