Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England, said the outbreak could have been detected sooner if doctors regularly did lab tests on patients with diarrhea _ a standard practice in Britain.
“They could miss an outbreak starting until people get quite sick with severe complications,” he said.
Hunter said German doctors probably only realized how widespread the infections were when the number of patients with kidney failure spiked in mid-May.
“It is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection that is not proven by bacteriological analysis, as this spreads unjustified fears (among) the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers,” EU health chief John Dalli said.
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.View Entire Story
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