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Preliminary tests found Sunday that bean sprouts and other sprout varieties from the farm in the Uelzen area could be traced to infections in five German states.
Many restaurants involved in what is now the deadliest known E. coli outbreak in modern history had received deliveries of the sprouts, which are often used in mixed salads.
The current outbreak has been blamed on a highly aggressive, "super-toxic" strain of E. coli. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say two previous reports of a similar strain have occurred elsewhere. One involved a 29-year-old woman in South Korea, reported in 2006. The other was a small cluster of cases in the Republic of Georgia in 2009.
E. coli can be found in the feces of humans and livestock and can spread to produce through sloppy bathroom habits among farmworkers and through animal waste in fields and in irrigation water. Organic farms tend to use more manure than other producers do.
The farm in Uelzen was shut down Sunday and all its produce recalled, including fresh herbs, fruits, flowers and potatoes. Two of its employees were also infected with E. coli, Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Lindemann said Sunday. He said 18 different sprout mixtures from the farm were under suspicion, including sprouts of mung beans, broccoli, peas, chickpeas, garlic lentils and radishes.
As for how the sprouts became contaminated, Lindemann noted that they are grown with steam in barrels at 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) -- an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.
He said it is possible that the water was contaminated with E. coli or that the sprout seeds -- purchased in Germany and other countries -- contained the germ. He said the farmers had not used any manure, which is commonly spread on organic farms and has been known to cause E. coli outbreaks.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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