Spanish lettuce watered with raw sewage – 2005 preview to German E. coli O104 outbreak?
Posted: May 27th, 2011 - 8:36am by Doug Powell
In May 2005, hundreds of people in Northern Europe became sick from lettuce grown in Spain that was watered with human sewage.
As reported by Eurosurveillance, the rare multiresistant Salmonella Typhimurium DT 104B caused an outbreak of 60 microbiologically confirmed cases in May 2005, widely distributed across southern and western Finland. The isolates had an identical pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and antimicrobial resistance pattern (ACSSuT); also, 80% of the confirmed cases were in females and 45% were in people aged between 15-24 years (range 7 to 53).
Hundreds were also sickened in the U.K. The Daily Mail was direct: “Drought-hit Spanish farmers have been using household sewage to water lettuce.”
Spain's environment minister at the time said, "When they don't get irrigation water they turn to other kinds of water."
Farmers from Beniel, in south-east Spain, told the El Pais newspaper, "The water we receive is not enough, so we are forced to mix it with the sewage from our own homes."
Farmers' leaders in the Murcia region insist it would be wrong to view all Spanish produce as unsafe based on the behavior of a few growers.
Francisco Gil, a local union leader who grows peppers, said at the time, "That is like calling all Englishmen drunks just because one or two of them can't hold their drink.”
So assuming German health types are correct and Spanish cucumbers are to blame for an E. coli O104 outbreak that has killed five and sickened over 600, it reinforces a food safety basic: know thy supplier – and know what they are doing when the auditor or inspector isn’t around, which is 99.99999 per cent of the time.
Night soil? Or ruminant soil.