- WASHINGTON (AP) - Consumers
beware: Scientists say the bacteria that cause food poisonings aren't going
away, despite the efforts of the food industry to eliminate them.
- New germs arrive in imported foods and bacteria already
here develop in new forms, according to a report for the Institute of Food
Technologists. The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes are so common in the
environment, it's "practically impossible" to keep food entirely
free of them.
- "Zero risk is not a reality," said the report
- The scientists also say the increasing use of manure
as fertilizer poses the risk of spreading harmful bacteria to food, either
by contaminating irrigation water or by coming into contact with crops.
- Manure, which harbors bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7,
campylobacter and salmonella, substitutes for chemical fertilizer on both
organic and conventional crops. In some foreign countries, chicken manure
is fed to farm-raised shrimp.
- The report also warns against overuse of antibiotics
in livestock, saying there is growing evidence that it's causing bacteria
to become resistant to drugs.
- "The job of assuring microbiological food safety
is unending," said Morris Potter, a top Food and Drug Administration
epidemiologist who chaired the study by government and university scientists.
Consumers "should take heart, however, because of the progress that
has been made."
- The report also raises concern about the regulation of
imported fruits and vegetables and the potential for new pathogens getting
into the country. The bacteria, Cyclospora cayetanensis, came to the United
States through imported produce, and rare forms of salmonella also have
been appearing in the country.
- "Certainly, you can grow produce that is free of
pathogens in developing countries. It's just a matter of sanitary practices
and the quality of water that is used for irrigation," said Michael
Doyle, a University of Georgia microbiologist who assisted in the study.
- FDA inspects less than 2 percent of imported fruits and
vegetables. Major supermarket chains, worried about new outbreaks of salmonella
and other bacteria, have recently started requiring domestic and foreign
produce suppliers to be inspected by private firms.
- The report says better monitoring of foodborne illnesses
is needed to spot trends and identify causes. For example, doctors too
often treat patients for food poisonings without reporting the illnesses
to public health authorities or ordering tests to determine the exact causes.
- That lack of reporting means that government agencies
and food companies may not be aware of new pathogens or dangerous products.
- Changes in how foods are processed -- such as leaving
out salt -- can lead inadvertently to new safety problems by making food
more hospitable to bacteria, or by causing the bacteria to evolve into
- At one point, yogurt manufacturers started replacing
sugar with an artificial sweetener only to discover that led to the growth
of the bacteria that causes botulism. It turned out that the sugar was
removing water from the yogurt, making it difficult for the bacteria to
grow. Yogurt was reformulated to eliminate the problem.
- "There are a lot of complicated factors that result
in foodborne illness," said Jenny Scott, senior director of food safety
programs for the National Food Processors Association. "You can focus
in on one aspect, but things change. You think you are licking them, but
something else pops up."