On May 19, 2011 the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a marked increase in the numbers of people suffering from a severe illness called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). which is known to destroy blood cells and can lead to kidney failure. By May 25 the cause of the outbreak was determined as the bacteria Escherichia coli 0104:H4, not only well-known for causing a dreaded disease, but in this case a rare enterohemorrhagic strain that also produces cytotoxins, more colloquially called Shiga-like toxins. A small amount of these bacteria are enough to bring about serious illness and the need for immediate medical attention.
Once the bacteria strain had been identified, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an alert and the RKI and German Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) (http://www.bfr.bund.de/
Demand Surges for Food Testing
The warnings issued by the ECDC prompted a large number of food samples to be sent for testing by both food producers and local authorities to food testing laboratories (http://www.foodsafety.sgs.com/
“We routinely perform extensive microbiological analyses for pathogenic organisms in our accredited laboratories. Analysis for EHEC is usually done by detection of the Shiga-like toxins (ELISA) or characteristic genes (PCR). As the crisis in northern Germany got underway we received a mountain of requests to perform tests for the detection of EHEC. The microbiological laboratory team devoted considerable efforts to increase our capacity for the increased number of samples, while ensuring an absolutely safe laboratory process. This was successfully implemented in only a few days. We were then able to support our clients during the crisis with reliable analyses and short turnaround times. Several hundred samples were analyzed in just a few days, and this helped our clients fulfill their own internal and external requirements for quality control.”
Despite all their efforts, the source of the infection continued to elude scientists. Eventually, on June 5, RKI was able to utilize epidemiological data to identify sprouts as the possible cause of the outbreak. When employees of a farm for horticulture in Lower Saxony tested positive for Escherichia coli 0104:H4, time was needed to match the strains of the disease found in patients and fenugreek sprouts that analyzed as testing positive. It was still, however, debatable as to whether the farm was the primary source of infection or merely one of its distributing arms. Once evidence was gathered to suggest that these locally grown sprouts were contaminated, it was eventually deduced that fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt were the likely source of the HUS/EHEC outbreak. A withdrawal of the seeds stopped the disease in its tracks and by July 27 there had been no new cases reported for the three previous weeks.
About SGS Food Testing Services
SGS Food Testing Services (http://www.foodsafety.sgs.com) is able to provide full and comprehensive third-party testing services for the whole food supply chain from farm to fork and can help ensure that your products are fit for market sale.
For more information, please contact your SGS sales representative.
SGS Consumer Testing Services
Ron Wacker, PhD
Global Business Development Manager, Food Testing
SGS Germany GmbH
t +49 6039 4696540
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SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With 67'000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1'250 offices and laboratories around the world.