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Tests are continuing on sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany, but have so far come back negative.
Rodier said that doesn't necessarily exonerate the vegetables.
"Just because tests are negative doesn't mean you can rule them out," he said. "The bacteria could have been in just one batch of contaminated food and by the time you collect specimens from the samples that are left, it could be gone."
Hunter said the outbreak could have devastating consequences for consumers' faith in food safety.
Authorities in Germany "just have not done a good job of explaining why their assessments keep changing and as a result, it may be a long time before many people eat cucumbers and sprouts again," Hunter said.
Still, in outbreaks, it is not unusual for certain foods to be suspected at first, then ruled out.
In 2008 in the U.S., raw tomatoes were initially implicated in a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Consumers shunned tomatoes, costing the tomato industry millions. Weeks later, jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico were determined to be the cause.
In 2006, lab tests mistakenly pointed to green onions in an E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants in the U.S. Investigators considered cheddar cheese and ground beef as the source before settling on lettuce.
In Europe, a heated battle erupted Tuesday over compensation to farmers blind-sided by plunging demand as a result of the outbreak, with vegetable producers Spain and France scoffing at the amount proposed by the EU farm chief.
Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos suggested euro150 million ($219 million) -- about 30 percent of the value of vegetables that cannot be sold. The losses to EU farmers have been staggering -- in the neighborhood of euro417 million ($611 million) a week.
As of Tuesday, Germany's national disease control center reported 24 deaths -- 23 in Germany and one in Sweden -- and 2,325 infections in Germany, including 642 patients with a rare complication that may lead to kidney failure. Ten other European countries and the United States have another 100 cases.
The Robert Koch Institute reported a slight decline in the rate of newly reported infections, a sign the epidemic may have reached its peak, but added it was not certain whether that decrease will continue.
Hospitals in northern Germany were still being crushed by the demands of caring for E. coli patients.
A 41-year-old Hamburg lawyer who was hospitalized for more than a week in a separate hospital ward for E. coli cases described a surge in infections.
"When I got there, it wasn't that full yet, but then more patients came every day," she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity because she didn't want her family identified.
Now discharged, she remains quarantined at home.
"People here are very, very much afraid," she said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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