Egyptian fenugreek seeds blamed for Europe’s massive and deadly E. coli outbreak are still on the market and were shipped to more countries than was previously believed, including Austria, Britain and Spain, officials said on Tuesday.
The European Food Safety Authority confirmed in a report that one lot of contaminated seeds from Egypt was probably the source of the recent food poisoning outbreaks in Germany and France, but the number of European countries that received parts of the suspected lots is “much larger than previously known.”
Seeds from the suspect Egyptian lot were imported to one large German distributor, the agency said, and those seeds were then sold to 70 different companies, 54 of them in Germany, the centre of the outbreak, and to 16 companies in 11 other European countries. Tracing exactly where the seeds were sold could take weeks, it said.
Officials previously believed that sales had centered primarily in Germany and France but until now had little detailed information on where the seeds were shipped.
So far, the strain has killed 51 people, including 49 deaths in Germany and one each in Sweden and the U.S. More than 4,000 people in Germany have fallen sick since the outbreak was detected in May, including 851 who have developed a serious complication that could lead to kidney failure.
The same bacteria was also responsible for a much smaller outbreak in France last month.
Experts said many of the infected seeds may already have been used but that some were still in the food chain. The report said it was possible other lots of fenugreek seeds from the same Egyptian exporter might also be contaminated.
Health officials have warned there could be further outbreaks of the lethal E. coli strain if the tainted fenugreek seeds are still being eaten. Experts say people should not grow or eat their own sprouts and that all sprouts should be thoroughly cooked before being eaten.