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WASHINGTON - A new report conducted for the Institute of Food Technologists suggests America's food supply will be threatened by dangerous bacteria for a long time as new germs arrive in imported products and microbes already here develop in new forms, The Associated Press reports.
Scientists are concerned in particular with the increasing use of manure as fertilizer. They say it poses the risk of spreading harmful bacteria to food, either by contaminating irrigation water or coming into direct contact with crops.
The report also warns against the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, saying there is "growing body of evidence" that farm use of antibiotics is causing bacteria to become resistant to drugs.
"The job of assuring microbiological food safety is unending," said Morris Potter, a top epidemiologist for the Food and Drug Administration who chaired the study by government and university scientists.
The scientists say it will be "practically impossible" to keep hot dogs and similar precooked meats free of Listeria monocytongenes because the bacterium is so common in the environment.
The report raises concern about the regulation of imported fruits and vegetables and the potential for new pathogens getting into 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, and some major supermarket chains are requiring domestic and foreign produce suppliers to be inspected by private firms, The AP reports.
The report says better monitoring of foodborne illnesses is needed to spot trends and identify causes.
In addition, changes in how foods are processed 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, the AP notes. 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.