Evidence is growing that seeds used for sprouting may be the source of the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak that has sickened 3,255 people in Europe and North America, and has killed 35 people. Germany accounts for 3,147 of the illnesses and 34 of the deaths.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) reports that a family in Lower Saxony became infected with enterohemmorhagic E. coli (EHEC) after eating home-sprouted seeds. Kits for growing sprouts at home are readily available in many stores.

Germany also has confirmed that the strain of E. coli O104:H4 recovered from an opened package of sprouts obtained from a household in Rhein-Sieg-Kreis is identical to the outbreak strain. Two of the family members from this household were infected with E. coli O104:H4.

The German National Reference Laboratory and diagnostic labs in other countries are currently examining seeds for E. coli contamination. German federal and state authorities are continuing to explore all possible avenues of sprout contamination, including a review of epidemiological data, distribution channels and supply lists. A recall or withdrawal of suspect seeds may follow, depending on the outcome of the .

While the outbreak strain has not yet been recovered from a sample of unsprouted seeds, BfR recommends that the public avoid consuming any raw sprouts, whether grown commercially or sprouted at home from seeds.