Dangerous Food Bacteria
Is Here To Stay

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 released Wednesday.
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 hardier forms.
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."

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