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Posted September 9, 2011

Possible Concern with Fenugreek Based on Contamination in Europe

Products made with fenugreek, including pills containing fenugreek seed, have been pulled from shelves in Germany due to conern over potential contamination with E. coli bacteria. There is no such action in the U.S., but is posting this information as a precaution for those who use supplements made from fenugreek seed.

As reported recently in HerbalEGram, fenugreek seeds imported into Germany from Egypt were found to be the source of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in history, which occurred earlier this year. More than 50 people died and approximately 4,400 people were left ill after eating raw fenugreek sprouts harvested from the contaminated seeds.

In May the outbreak began in Germany with the report of a cluster of kidney failure cases associated with virulent strain of E. coli known as STEC. Symptoms of STEC infection include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. In some serious cases, patients may develop hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure and, eventually, death. People in France were also affected by this outbreak. The infections were linked to fenugreek sprouts harvested from a single farm in Germany. A “trace-back” found that the German producer had imported 75 kg of the tainted seeds from Egypt in 2009.

As also noted in HerbalEGram, "As an herbal remedy, fenugreek seed is often used to treat symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes by helping to normalize blood sugar levels. Fenugreek can also be used to treat loss of appetite, upset stomach, and can be applied topically to reduce inflammation. It also has been traditionally used as a galactagogue to increase breast milk production."

In July, the European Commission, an EU governing body, adopted emergency measures requiring member countries to remove and destroy specific lots of fenugreek seed imported from Egypt since 2009. Health officials from the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) went a step further in requiring any medicinal products containing fenugreek seed to be removed from markets. Further imports of the seed in all EU member countries have been prohibited until October 31st of this year.

Although there have been no additional reported cases of illness and the outbreak has been declared over, it is conceivable that products made earlier with contaminated seed could remain available outside of Germany. It is a slim possibility that any contaminated products are in the U.S., but if you experience any E.coli related symptoms after using fenugreek products, contact your doctor and your local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) office.

For more information, see the article in HerbalEGram (from the American Botanical Council) using the link below.