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UPDATED CONTINUING COVERAGE: German officials say initial tests show that bean sprouts from an organic farm in the country's north are not the cause of the E. coli outbreak.
Lower-Saxony state's agriculture ministry said Monday that 23 of 40 samples from the sprout farm suspected of being behind the outbreak have tested negative for the relevant bacteria.Further tests are pending.
The E. coli outbreak in Germany has killed at least 22 people and sickened more than 2,300 across Europe, leaving customers uneasy about eating raw vegetables.
Authorities had previously pinpointed cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce and as the cause of the outbreak, and previous warnings against eating those foods continue to stand.
An alarmingly large number of victims have developed potentially deadly kidney complications. Chinese and German scientists are working furiously to determine the root cause of the outbreak by testing DNA of the E. coli bacteria, and have zeroed in on “an entirely new, super-toxic” strain that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory BGI.
"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. The new strain, which appears to be a combination of two types of E. coli, has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.
The outbreak has reached 10 other European countries and appeared in the U.S. on Friday when four people fell ill upon returning from Germany.
PG will continue to update this story as additional details are available.