In The News: Fenugreek Seeds and Herbal Supplements Recalled

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Remember that outbreak of Shiga-toxin Escherichia coli (STEC/ E. coli) in Germany and how everyone was blaming sprouts for it? Yeah, that may have been a bit hasty. Not that sprouts aren’t to blame, but an update from the American Herbal Products Association states that the sprouts in question were, in fact, sprouted from particular batches of fenugreek seeds in Egypt (which were also reportedly labeled as “organic”). The European Commission has told EU members to destroy any fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt–this includes herbal supplements and medicinal products containing fenugreek seeds imported to Germany from Egypt between 2009 and 2011. The EU is halting imports of fenugreek from one Egypt until at least October (sources are conflicted as to whether this is a ban on one specific supplier or of all fenugreek seeds from the country). The most common medicinal use for fenugreek seeds in the EU is apparently a tea to remedy loss of appetite, but it’s also used for general digestive problems and to reduce inflammation. Steeping fenugreek for tea is unlikely to reach the temperatures needed to kill the E. coli bacteria. 

Raw fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt may contain deadly e coli.
Photo by zoyachubby/Courtesy

Even though the contamination so far has largely been located in Europe (CBS reports one US death linked with this but I couldn’t find confirmation), it’s hard to trace all the places these seeds might have been shipped to for processing and packaging. Since the contamination is thought to have likely occurred at the farm level, it’s difficult to determine whether the whole lot was contaminated or not. If you take a supplement that includes fenugreek seeds, or you use them in food preparation (I’ve seen them in a few curry recipes from my new favorite cookbook and they are a source of commercial and homegrown sprouts.), it might be worthwhile to ask where those seeds are sourced from. If your local supplier doesn’t know, see if they can find out. If not, make sure you cook the seeds or sprouts thoroughly, or maybe don’t push your luck.

*If you are concerned about the possibility of E. coli poisoning, symptoms include reduced and/or blood urine and pale skin that bruises easily. Please contact a health professional with any concerns.

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