NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Sprouts have been conclusively identified as the culprit in the massive E. coli outbreak in Europe that resulted in the death of 31 people and illness of more than 3,000 others, German health officials said in a press conference Friday.
Sprouts were initially suspected of causing the outbreak, but then were cleared after tests on samples from northern Germany come back negative for the strain.
Ultimately, doctors traced the outbreak back to the an organic farm in Germany’s Lower Saxony by linking separate clusters of patients who had fallen sick to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had received produce from the farm.
"In this way, it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts," Reinhard Burger, president of Germany's national disease control center, told reporters at the press conference. "It is the sprouts."
Sprouts have been just one of the many suspects believed to be the cause of Europe’s deadly outbreak. Initially, German officials cited Spanish cucumbers as the cause of the mutant form of the bacteria, which angered Spanish officials who argued that the allegation damaged its produce industry.
Ultimately, several European countries banned the import of cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh salad from both Spain and Germany while the source of the outbreak remained undetermined. Many of these bans are now being lifted.
German officials said that, while sprouts from the farm are not currently testing positive for the bacteria, the crisis is not yet over since some of the affected crop may still be in the market. They recommended that people should still not eat sprouts.
U.S health officials addressed the outbreak by increasing its testing of all fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce (including salad mixes and prepared salads), and all sprouts and sprout seeds from Germany and Spain last weekend.