- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2011

LONDON (AP) - French and British food safety officials on Saturday were investigating seeds from a British company linked to an E. coli outbreak near Bordeaux.

France halted the sale of fenugreek, mustard and arugula sprout seeds from British seed and plant vendor Thompson & Morgan after eight people were hospitalized following an E. coli outbreak. French investigators found that two of them were sickened after consuming sprouts from the three seed types in the southwestern town of Begles, a suburb of Bordeaux.

Some of those affected were infected by the same strain of E. coli that has killed 44 people _ all but one in Germany _ and sickened more than 3,700 in recent weeks.

The company cautioned the link was unsubstantiated, arguing in a statement that it believed that “something local in the Bordeaux area, or the way the product has been handled and grown, is responsible for the incident rather than our seeds.”

The company said it understood that French officials were still testing the seeds and investigating how they were grown. In the meantime, Thompson & Morgan said it had submitted samples of its seeds to British health authorities for investigation.

A spokesman for Britain’s Food Safety Agency said that officials “don’t have definitive evidence that the company is the source of the contamination” and that an investigation was ongoing. He noted that European health authorities have misattributed the source of E. coli outbreaks in the past. Spanish cucumbers, for example, were wrongly blamed for the illnesses in Germany.

The food safety official spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy.

___

Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this story.

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