U.S. personnel warned to avoid certain veggies amid E. coli outbreak in Europe
May 27, 2011
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. Army health officials are now recommending that all Defense Department personnel and families in Europe avoid eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce — except for U.S.-origin bagged salad — in addition to practicing safe food preparation practices, in the wake of an E. coli outbreak in Germany.
The virulent strain of E.coli has sickened more than 270 people in Germany with a potentially deadly complication, and at least two people have died, according to health authorities.
About 60 new serious infections were reported in Germany between Thursday and Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Thursday, Army health officials initially advised disinfecting raw vegetables for personal consumption with a prescribed mixture of water and either bleach or white vinegar, after health officials said cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce were suspected sources of the bacteria.
“It’s still a good measure to treat your vegetables in a chlorine bath, but with an organism like this, we’re recommending that they just avoid the products right now,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Roque Caballero, Public Health Command Region Europe command food safety officer.
Unless people are trained to properly disinfect vegetables, they run the risk of cross-contamination, he said.
German health officials have found the deadly bacteria on three cucumbers imported from Spain, and they are still running tests to determine if tomatoes and lettuce are contaminated.
Many of the ill are women who said they had recently eaten these vegetables, authorities said.
As a precaution, Army officials with Public Health Region Europe were advising DOD dining facilities Friday to pull raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce from their salad bars, though the decision on whether to serve those products rests with dining hall managers, Caballero said.
Those items were still available Friday at the Lindberg Hof dining facility on Kapaun Air Station in Kaiserslautern but signs warning of the E. coli outbreak were posted by the salad bar, said Staff Sgt. Gary Adamoyurka, the facility’s storeroom noncommissioned officer in charge.
“They were properly sanitized and cleaned,” Adamoyurka said, per guidance from Air Force public health officials. Customers were still eating salad, he said, despite the notice.
Inspectors with the 86th Medical Group Public Health Flight were sent out Friday to various Air Force food establishments to ensure proper food preparation guidelines were being followed, said 86th Airlift Wing spokesman Juan Melendez.
Melendez said, as of Friday, the Air Force had no reported cases of military or family members with the E. coli infection.
Defense Commissary Agency Europe is currently not purchasing any cucumbers, tomatoes or lettuce from Spain for its stores throughout Europe, said DECA Europe spokeswoman Leslie Brown.
None of those particular types of vegetables from Spain were on store shelves this week, Brown said.
The country of origin for produce can change weekly, as commissary vendors look for the best quality and prices, Brown said.
Cucumbers sold this week were from the Netherlands, she said. Cherry tomatoes from the vine imported from Spain were sold in commissaries the week of May 16-20.
The strain of E. coli detected by those infected in Germany is known as EHEC, or enterohemorrhagic E. coli.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such forms of the infection can cause a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed. Officials say it can cause kidney failure and other problems.
The Robert Koch Institute said that as of Friday, 276 HUS cases were reported. By comparison, in 2010, 65 HUS cases were reported, according to the institute. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reported that cases of HUS complications were reported in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.
A spokesperson for the center, Giovanni Mancarella, said in an email that all those cases were from or had traveled to northern Germany.
Stars and Stripes’ Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this story.