Spanish Exporters Losing $288 Million in E. Coli Scare Might ‘Take Action’

Photographer: Joern Pollex/Getty Images

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Photographer: Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Sliced cucumber arranged for a photograph.

Spain may “take action” against Germany for saying Spanish cucumbers were the cause of an E. coli outbreak, Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

“A lot of money has been lost, and our image,” he said. “We don’t rule out taking action against the authorities who cast doubt on the quality of our produce, in this case the authorities in Hamburg.”

Germany’s largest E. coli outbreak has killed nine people, and one person has died in Sweden also, according to the European Commission. After German authorities initially named Spanish cucumbers as the possible source, tests by Hamburg health authorities on cucumbers from the Mediterranean country didn’t find the strain of E. coli responsible for the outbreak.

Spanish fruit and vegetable exporters are losing as much as 200 million euros ($288 million) a week in sales as consumers avoid the country’s products, according to Begona Jimenez, a spokeswoman for Fepex, which represents producers in Spain.

E. coli is spread through contaminated food and water or contact with animals, and may produce toxins that cause human disease. Cattle and other ruminants can be healthy carriers of the bacterium, which can spread through fecal contamination, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Infection may lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a potentially fatal type of kidney damage.

While contamination happens in the field, the bacteria can be carried on trucks to a warehouse and contaminate other produce on a processing line, Bruce Hirsch, attending physician for infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, said in an interview yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in Madrid at erossthomas@bloomberg.net; Allison Connolly in Frankfurt at aconnolly4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net; Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net.

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