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The WHO recommends that to avoid food-borne illnesses, people wash their hands, keep raw meat separate from other foods, thoroughly cook their food, and wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw. Experts also recommend peeling raw fruits and vegetables if possible.

The fact that the strain may be new may have complicated the response to the outbreak.

“Officials may not have had the correct tests to detect it, which may explain the initial delay in reporting,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England.

He said the number of new cases would probably slow to a trickle in the next few days. The incubation period for this type of E. coli is about three to eight days. “Salads have a relatively short shelf life and it’s likely the contaminated food would have been consumed in one to two weeks,” Hunter said.

But Hunter warned the outbreak could continue if there is secondary transmission of the disease, which often happens when children are infected. E. coli is present in feces and can be spread by sloppy bathroom habits, such as failure to wash one’s hands.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero slammed the European Commission and Germany for singling out the country’s produce early on as a possible source of the outbreak, and said the government would demand “conclusive explanations and sufficient reparations.”

Spanish farmers say the accusations have devastated their credibility and exports. In Valencia, protesting farmers dumped some 300 kilos (700 pounds) of fruit and vegetables — cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other produce — outside the German consulate.

The outbreak is already considered the third-largest involving E. coli in recent world history, and it may be the deadliest. Twelve people died in a 1996 Japanese outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 9,000, and seven died in a Canadian outbreak in 2000.

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Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Karel Janicek in Prague, Adam Schreck in Dubai, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.