Poison scare vegetables withdrawn from shelves

Spanish vegetables suspected of contamination with a potentially deadly bacteria are being recalled from shops in Austria and the Czech Republic to prevent the spread of an outbreak that has killed at least nine people and left hundreds ill across Europe, officials said yesterday.

Czech officials said 120 organic Spanish cucumbers suspected of contamination by the potentially fatal bacteria were being pulled off shelves.

Three people in Britain have been hit by the outbreak, with the Scottish government saying it is monitoring the situation.

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Health authorities in Austria also said small numbers of the cucumbers were being recalled from stores there.

The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety said it had issued an immediate recall of the cucumbers.

The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said cucumbers from a contaminated shipment also went to Hungary and Luxembourg. There were no immediate reports of illness there.

The cucumbers transited Germany, where at least nine people have died and almost 300 have been made ill by hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a rare complication arising from infection associated with the E. coli bacterium. Almost a dozen people with HUS have been admitted to hospital in Sweden in the past two weeks after travel to Germany. In Denmark, eight people are in hospital with E.coli infection that could be linked to the outbreak.

An EU spokesman said today that two greenhouses in Spain which were identified as the source of the contaminated cucumbers had ceased activities. The water and soil there are being analysed to see whether they were the problem or if the contamination occurred elsewhere, said the spokesman.