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Report on the results of the German EHEC Task Force on the EHEC O104:H4 disease outbreak investigation in Germany

This is a report on the results of the work of the German EHEC Task Force on the food safety side of the EHEC O104:H4 disease outbreak investigation in Germany.

The German EHEC Task Force was called to action by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) to support the food safety side of the EHEC outbreak investigation. Members of the Task Force EHEC were experts from the Federal States (Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Hamburg, Bavaria), from the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL), and the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR). The work of the Task Force was coordinated by BVL. Additionally, experts from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and scientists of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) participated in the Task Force.

During the first phase of the outbreak investigation the main goal was to identify the contaminated food. To achieve this, two different strategies were followed in parallel. One approach was a detailed trace back analysis for all salad ingredients and raw vegetables that have been served to customers at five outbreak clusters in order to identify common food sources and delivery chains. The second approach was a trace forward analysis of the supply chains of a sprout producer in order to find out if he had been delivered any outbreak clusters. Both approaches revealed that contaminated sprouts from a producer in Lower Saxony highly likely had caused the outbreak.

Aim of the second investigation phase was to find and stop the source of the EHEC O104:H4 bacteria. The Task Force gave recommendations on source elimination measures and collected and analysed epidemiological information in order to find out when the source was active. Next to that, a detailed trace back for batches of suspicious seeds that had been used by the sprout producer was initiated. The results from this activity formed the basis for the tracing of seeds coordinated by the European Food Safety Authority, which revealed that fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt were the most likely common link between the EHEC O104:H4 outbreaks in Germany and France.

In conclusion, the newly developed outbreak investigation strategy of the Task Force EHEC with close collaboration between German federal and federal state authorities and between food safety authorities, health authorities and scientists was a recipe of success and can be a model for future food-borne outbreak investigations.

You can download the report on the results of the work of the German EHEC Task Force on the food safety side of the EHEC O104:H4 disease outbreak investigation in Germany here (available just in German).

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