Thu Apr 13, 2006 6:14pm ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States fell short of its 2005 goal to reduce cases of the foodborne bacteria Listeria by 50 percent, according to a government report released on Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate of Listeria food poisoning rose in 2005 to 3 cases per million people, an increase from 2.7 cases per million a year earlier.
Listeria is a potentially fatal disease for at-risk populations including the very young and elderly. It can cause high fever, severe headache and nausea. U.S. health officials say it triggers about 2,500 illnesses each year and 500 deaths. As recently as 1998 the rate was near 5.0 cases per million.
A USDA spokesman said the department, which oversees regulations designed to stop the spread of the bacteria, has rules in place that should help lower future incidences.
The Consumer Federation of America said while the government made progress lowering the rate between 1996 and 2002, Listeria has started to climb because USDA hasn’t established tighter controls for deli meats and hot dogs.
“There is no progress if you don’t have the government pushing the industry to improve,” said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America.
In response to a nationwide outbreak of Listeria, the Clinton administration in May 2000 established a series of public health initiatives to reduce the incidence of the bacteria to 2.5 cases per million people by 2005. Critics said several of the measures, including enhanced labeling, have not been put in place by USDA.
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