HAMBURG, Germany – First they pointed a finger at Spanish cucumbers. Then they cast suspicion on sprouts from Germany. Now German officials appear dumbfounded as to the source of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history, and one U.S. expert called the investigation a “disaster.”
Backtracking for the second time in a week, officials Monday said preliminary tests have found no evidence that vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany were to blame.
The surprise U-turn came only a day after the same state agency, Lower Saxony’s agriculture ministry, held a news conference to announce that the sprouts appeared to be the culprit in the outbreak that has killed 22 people and sickened more than 2,330 others across Europe, most of them in Germany, over the past month.
Andreas Hensel, head of Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, warned, “We have to be clear on this: Maybe we won’t be able anymore to identify the source.”
“This investigation has been a disaster,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Associated Press.
“This kind of wishy-washy response is incompetent,” he said, accusing German authorities of casting suspicion on cucumbers and sprouts without firm data.
The European Union’s health Commissioner defended German investigators, saying they were under extreme pressure as the crisis unfolded.
“We have to understand that people in certain situations do have a responsibility to inform their citizens as soon as possible of any danger that could exist to them,” John Dalli said in Brussels.