Crop Biotech Update

Experts Search for Sources of E. coli in Farms

June 10, 2011

Authorities are searching for the culprit of the latest Escherichia coli outbreak in Europe, which has infected more than 2,100 and killed 22 people. German authorities have released warnings on eating vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and sprouts, but all have not yet proven to be the cause of the outbreak.

Foodborne illness experts were not surprised to hear that sprouts is one of the suspected causes. According to William Marler, a Seattle-based food poisoning attorney, "sprout farms are perfect incubators for bacteria." For the past 20 years, it has been recorded that more than 30 outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella occurred at sprout farms. Ideally, sprouts grow at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the same prime condition for the growth of bacteria. E. coli could easily spread in the water where the sprouts are grown, and it can remain dormant on the seeds.

"One of the scary things about E. coli is that about 50 bacterium are enough to sicken and kill you," Marler said. "One hundred thousand of them would fit on the head of a pin." Some strains of the bacteria can cause potent toxins that can attack different organs of the body.

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