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Minister hopes worst of E.coli over

Germany's health minister has said that he is hopeful the worst of an E.coli outbreak blamed on bean sprouts is over - but warned that the death toll, currently 33, may still increase.

Daniel Bahr's comments came after health officials announced on Friday that they had traced the outbreak to bean sprouts from a farm in northern Germany. They also lifted a warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, which were initially suspected as possible culprits.

The E.coli outbreak, the world's deadliest, has made nearly 3,100 people ill - most of them in Germany - and prompted many in Europe to shun vegetables over recent weeks.

"The (E.coli) wave is gradually abating - there is reason to hope the worst is now over," Mr Bahr told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that a major new flare-up is "very unlikely".

However, "further deaths are not ruled out, as painful as that is".

In Hamburg, one of the worst-hit areas, customers at the city's Wandsbek market were back to buying cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

With the end of the warning, "now they are coming back to the markets", said farmer Wolfgang Sannmann, who was selling vegetables and fruit. "And the consumer can buy again what he wants and what his appetite tells him."

Nevertheless, some customers remained wary despite officials' assurances that they had pinned down the source.

"I am still very cautious, because in the first place they said it's the cucumbers, and everyone stopped eating them, and now it's the sprouts," said estate agent Jessica Hemblen, 27. "I'm not sure whether this is it, or whether it's not going to be something different again."

Officials in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state said tests had found the deadly E.coli strain in a bag of bean sprouts from the farm which was in the rubbish of a family near Cologne, two of whose members had fallen ill.

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