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For Immediate
February 21, 2001

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  “More Tests Will Save More Lives” Statement on USDA's Proposed Rule on Listeria
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed regulation to control deadly Listeria bacteria in ready-to-eat meat products. Two years ago, Listeria caused 21 deaths and 100 illnesses in a nationwide outbreak linked to hot dogs and deli meats produced by Sara Lee’s Bil Mar plant in Michigan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Listeria causes 2,300 hospitalizations and 500 deaths per year. In January 2000, CSPI petitioned the USDA to require industry to test for Listeria in ready-to-eat meat products.

     “USDA’s proposed rule is an important measure to close gaps in the current food-safety system. Today, processors are not required to test for Listeria in either their plants or their products. If a processor conducts tests voluntarily, it is under no obligation to share the results with USDA, even if its products cause deaths or illnesses.

     “We will urge USDA to strengthen the rule before it is finalized. While the proposed rule would require every plant producing hot dogs and deli meats to perform Listeria testing, in some instances the testing would be so infrequent that its value would be minimal. Very small plants, for example, would be required to test each processing line only once a month, despite the fact that a lot of product can be produced during that time. More tests will save more lives by helping companies to quickly identify and correct gaps in their food-safety programs.”