Killer Cucumbers: Germany Backtracks

German authorities say they do not know whether Spanish cucumbers have caused the outbreak of E.Coli which has killed at least 16 people and left hundreds ill.

Health officials say the number of deaths is expected to increase in the coming days across Europe .

The apparent backtrack by Germany has come after Spain and the Netherlands demanded compensation for vegetable producers who have lost money as a result of concerns over their produce.

The Spanish agricultural minister said she estimated the loss of sales in Spain to reach "more than 200 million euros a week".

Earlier, she defended the country's cucumber crop by eating the fruit on TV.

Rosa Aguilar said it is still unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated.

She tucked in to some cucumbers grown in Spain in an attempt to show they can not be blamed for one of the largest E.coli outbreaks in the world.

"The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," she said.

Last week, the European Commission identified organic cucumbers from two Spanish provinces as the origin of the outbreak.

It said a third suspect batch of the vegetable originating in the Netherlands and traded in Germany was also under investigation.

Germany has confirmed 329 cases of E.coli, while in Sweden, authorities said there had been 36 suspected infections - all linked to travel in northern Germany.

Hospital officials in Boras, Sweden, said a woman in her 50s died after being admitted on May 29 following a trip to Germany.

Cases have also been reported in the UK, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

In many instances, the gastrointestinal infection has led to Haemolytic-uraemic Syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal.

Spain was the largest cucumber producer in Europe in 2008 with 27% of total production. It was followed by the Netherlands on 20%, EU figures show.

German authorities have warned people to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

Belgium and Russia have banned the import of vegetables from Spain.