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President Pushes to Get Prepared Foods Tested for Listeria Bug

May 6, 2000

In today's weekly radio address, President Clinton announced that he is supporting a measure to implement requirements of food manufacturers to test hot dogs, lunch meats and other prepared foods for the deadly listeria bug. His goal is to cut in half the number of listeria-related illnesses by 2005.

Listeria has forced dozens of food recalls in past years, including a 1998 outbreak blamed for 21 deaths and more than 100 illnesses in 22 states.

Listeria contamination has received much attention in relation to hot dogs and lunch meat products but the bacteria has also been responsible for recalls of cheese, smoked fish, milk and other non-meat foods. It can cause high fever, nausea, stiff necks and miscarriages in pregnant women. According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the disease, also known as listeriosis, effects 2,500 Americans each year and kills one-fifth of them.

"Millions of Americans get sick from eating contaminated food each year. A staggering 20 percent of listeria infections result in death." Clinton said. "It's rarely the healthy adults who come down with listeria infections. Instead it's the most vulnerable among us: infants, the elderly, pregnant women and those whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or AIDS," he added.

The president said he has ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop proposed regulations requiring companies to check for the bacteria in food manufacturing facilities.

The regulations, which officials hope could go into effect by the end of the year, aim to prevent cross-contamination at processing plants, and set appropriate standards for ready-to-eat products to ensure they are safe throughout their shelf life.

Clinton also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study further steps, including implementing procedures to help food processors and retailers avoid the bacteria that thrive in refrigerated temperatures, and to work with the USDA on studying whether enhanced food labeling would help protect consumers.

The President has given the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA 4 months to present a plan which will meet his goal of 2005.

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