FSA revises guidance after E. coli outbreak

The E. Coli bacteria in a laboratory
Image caption People are being warned to thoroughly cook their food to ensure the E. coli bacteria is killed

The Food Standards Agency says it is revising its guidance on the consumption of sprouted seeds in light of an outbreak of E. coli in France.

The FSA is advising that seeds such as alfalfa, beansprouts and fenugreek should be cooked thoroughly and not eaten raw.

Officials are continuing to investigate a possible link between seeds sold by a UK firm and the French cases.

News agency AFP said 10 people have been affected by E. coli in Bordeaux.

It is thought a number of those had eaten rocket and mustard vegetable sprouts, believed to have been grown from seeds sold by Thompson and Morgan.

The Ipswich-based company told the BBC it had no evidence of a link. The FSA said no E. coli cases had been reported in the UK.

An FSA spokesman told the BBC: "No cases of food poisoning have been reported in the UK linked with the outbreak in France but we are in close contact with the Health Protection Agency.

"We have asked for further information from the French authorities with regard to the three named type of seeds to help us carry out investigations in the UK."

Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist from Aberdeen University, said contaminated sprouted seeds tended to cause an outbreak of E. coli every year.

"The seeds, the beans are contaminated when they're being grown - perhaps they get some animal urine on them," he said.

"When you do the sprouting basically you incubate the seeds in the warm, in the moist and those are brilliant conditions for the bacteria to grow.

"So you only have to have a very small number of bacteria on the seeds and after they're sprouting a day or two the bacteria have grown thousands and thousands of times."

A spokeswoman for Thompson and Morgan said the company sold "hundreds of thousands of packets of these seeds" throughout France, the UK and other parts of Europe every year.

"We are very confident the problem is not with our seeds. People can still grow these seeds and use these seeds with absolute confidence," she said.

"For such a small number of people to have been affected, it does suggest that the problem is perhaps in the local area, how the seeds have been handled or how they have been grown, rather than the actual seeds themselves."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionHelen Johns, Thompson and Morgan: 'It does suggest the problem is in the local area'

The company was co-operating fully with investigations, she added.

The firm says it bought its seeds in bulk from suppliers around the world, and that the affected seeds may have been sourced from Italy.

Seven of those affected by the French E. coli outbreak, who ate the sprouts at a country fair at Begres near Bordeaux, needed hospital treatment.

There is no suggestion of a link to the German E. coli outbreak, which came from bean sprouts grown on an organic farm, but two people are said to be infected with a similar strain.

The sale of the three seed types - mustard, rocket and fenugreek - has been halted in France.

Thompson and Morgan have provided samples of these seeds to investigators in the UK.

Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP for the East of England, said the French would face compensation claims if their allegations over the source of the bacteria proved to be groundless.

"If the French have got this wrong and... they have pre-emptively come out into the public sphere and the link is not proven, then they must be held responsible for what could be hundreds of thousands pounds of further damage to the vegetable and to the salad market from East Anglia and Britain."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites