This is a follow-up to our previous Supply Chain Matters commentary regarding a severe foodborne outbreak of E.coli that has been impacting northern Germany and other countries, which has important supply chain implications. Thus far, the death toll resulting from this outbreak has risen to 31, with nearly 3100 sickened.

This deadly Escherichia coli outbreak appears to be an evolved strain which is extremely virulent and toxic, and has many global health agencies concerned. This strain has proven to be resistant to eight classes of antibiotic drugs.

Reports on Friday indicated that German health authorities concluded that the source of the outbreak was various sprouts grown and distributed from a small organic farm near the village of Bienenbuettel in Northern Germany. Authorities were able to trace the origin from specific interviews with patients affected, even though many did not recall what the specifically ate or what was included. A review of the food chain led to the restaurants visited, specific meals consumed, menus and recipes, and back through the various supply points of farm production.

According to an AP report featured in the San Jose Mercury News, the state assigned 1000 people to the case and inspectors visited more than 400 farms in Lower Saxony alone. Over 4600 microbiologic tests were conducted. Initial tests of the farm turned out negative but investigators began to dissect the various delivery records and health records of farm workers who also became ill from E.coli infections in early May, and that led to the more conclusive evidence. A account in the print addition of the Wall Street Journal also noted that authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia managed to test a package of bean sprouts found in an infected family’s trash can, which tested positive on Friday morning.

Officials continue to warn that the crisis is not yet over, but that people should now avoid raw sprouts rather than previous alerts related to cucumbers, tomatoes or lettuce. The Bienenbuettel farm has been shut down but authorities are still concerned that there could be tainted sprouts remaining in food chains.

Conditions for growing spouts are also very ideal for the growth of E.coli bacteria.  Still not resolved, and somewhat troubling is that what caused the contamination at the farm is still not determined. It could be the water supply, growing facility or handling equipment among other sources. That remains an important objective for authorities to determine, although it could be a difficult task.

Meanwhile, impacted cucumber, tomato and lettuce farmers throughout the European Union are now demanding compensation for lost sales and destroyed produce, as Europe’s consumers avoided these products.

It may be weeks or months to come before this especially troubling E.coli infection incident is resolved, and European food chains will continue to bear some impact as consumers remain concerned as to the safety of certain agricultural products.

Bob Ferrari