Cucumbers came under fresh suspicion on Wednesday in Germany’s desperate hunt for a pathogen that has killed 26 people, with investigators discovering the mutant bacteria on food scraps in a family’s garbage.
It was the first time the type O 104 enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) had been confirmed on any food since the outbreak began in mid-May. All the other evidence has come from fecal tests.
The scraps turned up in garbage in the eastern city of Magdeburg, authorities of the state of Saxony-Anhalt said.
Three of the family have been sick: the father only had a stomach upset, the mother has been discharged after a hospital stay for diarrhea and the daughter is suffering from hemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), a condition caused by EHEC where the kidneys fail.
Experts said they still did not know how the bacteria came to be on the cucumber, which had been in the bin for a week and a half.
Earlier in the day, investigators affirmed that bean sprouts from a market garden remained the likeliest cause of the E coli outbreak, despite the fact that the pathogen has not been found on any sprouts.
At a Berlin news conference, officials summed up the evidence against sprouts.
One woman working at the Bienenbuettel Gaertnerhof, an organic sprout grower, has been infected with EHEC, the germ behind the outbreak, and two other women there had unexplained diarrhea in May, Lower Saxony state officials said.
Two more clusters of EHEC victims were meanwhile confirmed as having eaten sprouts from the Gaertnerhof.
Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner said a total of eight clusters of EHEC victims who ate Gaertnerhof products had been spotted this way