Killer foods cause panic in Europe

Public confidence in food safety in Europe has again been seriously undermined following the outbreak of E.coli in Germany as a result of a mystery virus which has left 18 people dead.

Spanish cucumbers, originally blamed for the outbreak, have been cleared, but consumers are still shunning the usually popular vegetable.

Following are some of the food scares from beef to pork and chicken that have contributed to the crisis in consumer confidence in Europe over the past three decades:

- 1981: Spanish tainted oil

Some 1,200 people are killed and 4,000 injured in Spain in May 1981 after being poisoned by tainted colza oil, sold as a substitute for olive oil in Madrid's popular suburbs, in what is known as the "toxic syndrome". Sales of olive oil drop drastically, getting back to normal only two years later.

- 1985: Tainted wine in Austria

An enormous scandal blows up when wine tainted with anti-freeze is uncovered in Austria. Some 56,000 companies, employing 250,000 people, are implicated in the affair, having sold wine "softened" with glycol, a chemical product used as an anti-freeze in industry.

Those found responsible were sentenced to a total of 137 years in jail.

- 1986: Mad cow disease in Britain

The appearance of the first cases of "mad cow disease" or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in 1986 in Britain causes a public health scare that lasts several years. In 1996, when it becomes clear that the disease can be transmitted to humans in the form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the European Union orders a worldwide embargo on British beef and its derivatives. More than 170 people die.

1989: Salmonella in British eggs

British eggs are found to be contaminated with a virulent, previously unknown form of salmonella. The British government orders the slaughter of two million birds between 1989 and 1993.

1990: Benzene tainted perrier

Mineral water producer Perrier withdraws 160 million bottles worldwide following the detection of benzene in bottles on sale in the United States.

- 1999: Chickengate

In May 1999, dioxin, a highly carcinogenous substance, is discovered in feed for poultry and livestock in Belgium, contaminating the whole food chain. The scandal leads to the resignation of two Belgian ministers and costs Belgium 650 million euros (about R 6,3 billion), as consumers shun industrially produced eggs and chickens.

(Sapa, June 2011)

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Food poisoning

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