USDA urges meat factories to test for listeria
May 26, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans Tuesday to control listeria. It urged meat plants to test for the dangerous bacteria in ready-to-eat refrigerated meats during and after production.
An outbreak of listeria earlier this year in Sara Lee Corp. meat products killed 21 consumers and sickened more than 100. The bacteria, found naturally in the environment, is harmless to most people but can be deadly for those with weak or underdeveloped immune systems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1,100 people become seriously ill with listeria each year and 250 die.
The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service said it will warn those at risk, including the pregnant and elderly, to reheat cold cuts, hot dogs and other precooked meat products to kill the bacteria.
Meat plants in the United States must review their food safety procedures within the next 30 days to find ways to prevent listeria outbreaks. The USDA cannot require plants to test for the bacteria, but most plants are expected to comply with the request due to the high profile of recent outbreaks.
The USDA said that over the next few months it will develop safety standards for ready-to-eat meat and poultry products to reduce outbreaks of all types of food-borne illnesses.
While consumer groups had called for warning labels on ready-to-eat meats and hot dogs, the USDA said that for now, such labels will not be required. However, the government is continuing research on listeria and said labels may be required in the future.
CNN Food & Health Correspondent Linda Ciampa andReuters contributed to this report.
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