The European Union (EU) has temporarily prohibited the importation of some seeds and bean sprouts from Egypt after a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report linked the products to an E. coli O104:H4 outbreak that reportedly killed 51 people, including as many as six U.S. citizens. According to a July 5, 2011, EU press release, all imported seeds and beans “for sprouting” will be frozen until October 31, 2011, and all fenugreek seeds imported from one Egyptian company since 2009 will be destroyed.  The ban apparently covers “seeds, fruit and spores used for sowing; leguminous vegetables, shelled or unshelled, fresh or chilled; fenugreek; dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or not skinned or split; soya beans, whether or not broken; other oil seeds and oleaginous fruit, whether or not broken.”

Officials apparently traced the E. coli outbreaks in France and Germany to a single importer that shipped Egyptian fenugreek seeds to both the Lower Saxony farm and U.K. seed supplier implicated in the event.  “The contamination of seeds with the STEC O104:H4 strain reflects a production or distribution process which allowed contamination with fecal material of human and/or animal origin,” concluded EFSA. “Where exactly this took place is still an open question. Typically such contamination could occur during production at the farm level. While contamination at subsequent steps in, up to, and including at the Importer cannot be excluded, it is highly unlikely that contamination could have taken place during transport of the sealed container.”  See MSNBC.com, July 8, 2011; The Associated Press, July 14, 2011.