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No EHEC danger due to spice mixtures
On Thursday, news agencies reported that a total of two European authorities believe that so-called fenugreek seeds from Egypt could be contaminated with dangerous EHEC germs. The seeds in question are processed in numerous foods. The spice mixes can be found in products such as cheese, curry mixes and protein-containing fitness powders. Health experts, however, estimate the bacterial risk as low and warn against scaremongering.
"The EHEC trail leads to Egypt" was read yesterday in large letters in the daily newspapers. Indeed, two EU authorities have pointed out a potential danger of the Egyptian fenugreek seeds that have been contaminated with EHEC bacteria. But now there is disagreement among the experts as to whether there is actually an acute danger to humans from the seeds.
Spices and herbs are boiled during the manufacturing process
The fact is that most of the products in the reprocessing process are heated. The Hamburg-based food biologist from the city's Institute for Hygiene and the Environment, Dr. Anselm Lehmacher: "In the case of contamination with EHEC, this is only critical for foods that are not heated". The affected cheese and spice products are heat-treated during manufacture. This process usually kills the EHEC bacteria. According to the scientist, there is therefore no danger to humans when eating the named foods. "Spices are usually treated very gently with steam below 100 degrees". Each manufacturer has a different method of preparation. But what unites them is the fact that processing is done with great care. Because spices contain essential oils, the color of which must be preserved. Every process is also about "reducing the bacterial count to such an extent that one can practically speak of sterility," says Lehmacher.
Only a small number of seeds come from Egypt
Most of the "Fenugreek seeds are mainly imported from China and India," explained Gerhard Weber from the Spice Industry Association in Bonn. Only a very small number of seeds of the named variety are imported from Egypt to Germany. Fenugreek seeds are also only sold to an extremely small extent in unprocessed form, the spice specialist emphasized. The majority are processed into curry spice mixtures. "Due to the way it is processed, it can be said that it is extremely unlikely that spice mixtures pose an EHEC risk," confirms Weber.
The Romeis Institute also confirmed in a first statement that the products were harmless. There it was emphasized that the commercially available spices and herbal mixtures “do not pose any substantial and epidemiologically relevant infection risks from EHEC bacteria”. The cheeses and fenugreek seeds are also harmless to health for the consumer. Because the spice mixes that are contained in the cheese are always heated. "So there is no EHEC danger from cheese," emphasized a spokeswoman for the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin. For this reason "there is no new danger for humans with the seeds". There is a warning about the consumption of semen. However, this is only valid if the rungs have not been heated sufficiently. EHEC bacteria die from a minimum temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. For safety, the goods should be cooked at 100 degrees for at least 5 minutes to ensure that the bacteria are killed.
Products should be boiled before consumption
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had reported that the particularly aggressive and dangerous EHEC germ was attached to the fenugreek seeds. This comes from Egypt and was delivered to Germany to the already closed organic producer in Bienenbüttel. The sprouts were then exposed to contamination. As a result of the EHEC epidemic, at least 42 people have died and several thousand people have been infected. In some cases, the course of the disease was dramatic. People still get infected every day. However, the rate of new cases has decreased significantly. (sb)
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