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German E. coli death toll rises further

From Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
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E. coli fears result in destroyed food
  • The outbreak has killed 27 people, all but one of them in Germany
  • Authorities find an infected cucumber, but doubt it is the source of the outbreak
  • The European Union agrees to 210 million euros to compensate farmers
  • Bean sprouts are suspected of being the source but tests have not proven it

Berlin (CNN) -- German health authorities confirmed two more deaths due to a virulent bacteria outbreak, they said Thursday, bringing the total number of dead in Europe to 27. All but one were in Germany.

The rate of infection is slowing down, but the number of infections continues to rise, the Robert Koch Institut said. The number of people infected with E. coli now stands at 2,808, of whom 722 have the severe form of the intestinal illness.

The European Union on Wednesday agreed to pay 210 million euros ($307 million) to farmers who suffered losses due to the E.coli outbreak.

The figure is up considerably from the 150 million euros EU agriculture officials proposed Tuesday, and Dacion Ciolos, the EU's agriculture commissioner, said that figure may change again.

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"This envelope will enable us to respond to the compensation requests for the period from May 26 through to the end of June," Ciolos said. "We will then take stock of the situation and see whether we need to adjust these figures."

Authorities in eastern Germany have found food infected with the bacteria for the first time, but they do not believe that the discarded cucumber was the source of the infection, they said.

The deadly strain of E.coli was found on a piece of cucumber in organic garbage in the city of Magdeburg in eastern Germany, a spokesman for the health ministry of the state of Sachsen-Anhalt told CNN Thursday.

But the garbage had been in the can for about two weeks, Holger Paech said.

"Because the trash was sitting for such a long time, it would have been enough if one of the people in the household threw a used handkerchief in the garbage and that might have infected the cucumber piece, for all we know," Paech said.

Three people were infected in the house where the bacteria was found on the cucumber.

Officials believe the outbreak originated at a bean sprout farm in northern Germany but have not found direct evidence.

There was no trace of E. coli in a pack of bean sprouts in a household in Hamburg, where a man had become infected, health authorities there told CNN Tuesday.

The sprouts came from the farm which officials believe could be the source of the outbreak. But initial tests showed no sign of E. coli there, agriculture officials in the German state of Lower Saxony said Monday.

Authorities said that does not mean their suspicions were wrong; they would not expect to find evidence of E. coli if the tainted sprouts were no longer in the supply chain.

And Wednesday, Lower Saxony agriculture officials said three workers at the suspect farm had diarrhea in early May and at least one has been diagnosed with the dangerous strain of E.coli.

Authorities have also found that a cafeteria in the town of Cuxhaven, where 18 people came down with the infection, had also received sprouts from the farm in question, said Natascha Manski, a spokeswoman for the state agriculture ministry.

Farmers in several European countries are seeking to be paid back for losses they suffered after being wrongly blamed for the outbreak. Farmers who grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and lettuce will be eligible to receive up to 50% of the average market price they would have received, based on figures from 2008-2010, the EU said.

Some producers could get up to 70 percent of market prices when funds from EU-supported producer organizations are included, Ciolos said.

The planned settlement still needs to be accepted by EU member states on June 14, Ciolos said. Spain alone has sought more than 400 million euros ($600 million) in lost farm exports of cucumbers, tomatoes and other produce from the past few weeks, and farmers in Belgium, France, Holland and even Germany say they have millions in losses, too.

There have been a handful of infections in a dozen other European countries, but they appear to be linked to northern Germany. The only person to die outside Germany died in Sweden but had recently visited Germany.

CNN's David Wilkinson in London contributed to this report.