The European Union has banned Egyptian fenugreek seeds linked to E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France and slapped a temporary ban on the import of all seeds and beans from the country.
The decision followed a report on Tuesday from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) linking a batch of Egyptian fenugreek seeds to outbreaks in the two countries.
"The report published today leads us to the withdrawing of some Egyptian seeds from the EU market and to a temporary ban on imports of all seeds and beans originating from that country," said health commissioner John Dalli.
The outbreaks, which has left 49 dead and affected 4,178 people in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, has been blamed on a 15-tonne batch of Egyptian fenugreek seeds imported in 2009 to Germany, and then distributed elsewhere.
Withdrawal of the suspect seeds implies not only a ban on their sale but also their destruction.
The temporary import ban, to be enforced until October 31, hits all Egyptian seeds, fruit and spores used for sowing, including soya beans, dried leguminousvegetables and oil seeds.
The EFSA earlier said "that one lot of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt and used to produce sprouts is the most likely common link between the two outbreaks" in France and Germany.
"However, it cannot be excluded that other lots of fenugreek imported from Egypt during the period 2009-2011 may be implicated," it added.
EFSA recommended "that forward tracing be carried out in all countries which may have received seeds from the concerned lots."
It also advised consumers against growing sprouts for their own consumption or eating sprouts or sprouted seeds unless cooked thoroughly.
The EFSA report noted that the contamination probably occurred before the seeds left the importer.
"The production or distribution process apparently allowed contamination with faecal material of human and/or animal origin. Where exactly this contamination occurred is still unknown," the EU said.
Dalli said the commission would continue to monitor the situation very closely and would take additional measures if necessary.
Egypt's ministry of agriculture last week denied fenugreek seeds sold to Europe had caused the virulent strain of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), with the head of its Central Administration of Agricultural Quarantine, Ali Suleiman, dismissing first reports as "completely untrue."
He said the Egyptian company that exported the seeds in 2009 had said it shipped the fenugreek to Holland and not to Germany, Britain or France.
The World Health Organisation has confirmed some 4,050 infections in 14 European countries, the United States and Canada - more than 3,900 of them in Germany.
All but two of the fatalities have so far been in Germany, apart from one case in the United States and a woman who died in Sweden shortly after returning from a visit to Germany.
Seven people were infected in France with E. coli after eating vegetable sprouts at a leisure centre near Bordeaux.