European E. Coli Outbreak Puts FDA On Guard

Federal drug safety experts have announced they are taking steps to prevent a deadly European strain of E. coli from reaching the United States. 

The FDA issued an announcement about the European E. coli outbreak on June 3, stating that it is putting produce imports from Europe under surveillance, particularly fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and raw salads. The vegetables are on a list of possible suspects in an outbreak of E. coli O104 that has hit Europe, particularly Germany, hard in the last several weeks.

At least 22 people have died and more than 2,200 people have fallen ill during the food poisoning outbreak. All but one of those deaths occurred in Germany.

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Originally, investigators first suspected Spanish cucumbers as the source of the outbreak, but have so far failed to identify the food responsible. European investigators now indicate that the source may actually be German sprouts, and expect test results later today.

The FDA noted that there is very little produce imported from Europe to the U.S., due to its short shelf life and the abundance of growing area in the U.S. and Central America. The agency said, as part of its efforts to prevent the outbreak from reaching the United States, all produce imports of concern would be tested before they were allowed into the country. The FDA stated that no European produce found to be contaminated would be allowed into the U.S.

The FDA announcement, which was made before suspicions fell on German sprouts, said its safeguards would apply to any product of concern involved in the outbreak. So far, there have been no incidents of European E. coli infection detected in the U.S.

E. coli O104 is a new, virulent strain identified for the first time in the European outbreak. When left untreated, it can lead to dehydration and potentially life-threatening illness. While most healthy adults recover from food poisoning caused by E. coli within a few weeks, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness. If the toxin enters the blood stream, E. coli could also lead to a form of kidney failure known as Hemolytic-Uremia Syndrome (HUS).


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