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"It's darn near impossible to eliminate," Doyle says, though he adds that food processors are trying, by adding growth inhibitors to products, for one thing. "The food industry in general has gone to great strides to reduce listeria. The problem we have is the organism is so widespread."

It becomes especially widespread in certain types of foods, Doyle says, such as processed meats and soft cheeses, even when they're within their shelf life. Cooking destroys listeria, but the problem is that many of the foods in which it can most readily multiply don't always get further cooking. One of these foods is hot dogs. "They need to be cooked," Zellman says -- period.

E. coli gets most of the press, with salmonella not far behind. But neither leads the list, as far as causing food poisoning in the United States. That honor goes to campylobacter, which the CDC estimates may cause up to 4 million cases a year of food poisoning -- with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea the most likely symptoms.

Less common is a long-term complication from campylobacter infection: the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome, in which the body begins to attack some of its own nerves, with weakness and paralysis resulting.

The most common place to find campylobacter? Raw chicken. Cook it to 180 degrees on the meat thermometer, the experts say, and it's safe to eat.

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Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 27, 2000

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