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Experts Slice and Dice Food Safety Issues

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"This was clearly a situation where there was cross-contamination in a retail setting," he says. "You cannot look at food safety just in one area. It needs to extend the entire length of the food chain."

But Foreman sees it another way.

"The watermelon didn't bring the E. coli in," he tells WebMD. "And the food workers didn't bring it in. It came in on a piece of contaminated meat."

To lessen the chances of exposure to diseased food, some propose more widespread use of irradiation, a high-tech process that zaps meat clean of practically all nasty bacteria after it's being processed. But many consumers are leery of eating food that's been exposed to radiation.

"Radiation scares people because it's complicated and invisible, regardless of what the facts are," says David Ropeik, director of risk communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in Boston.

"The facts seem to support that radiating foods is safe [and] will improve public health," says Ropeik, whose center receives funding from the food industry and the U.S. government.

While the Consumer Federation doesn't oppose irradiation, Foreman says, it is expensive, and she worries that it could be used as a substitute for proper processing of meat.

Rather than promoting greater use of irradiation, Foreman says her group would like to expand government inspections of products after processing.

However, the food industry totally opposes that idea, she notes.

On the other side of the fence, the food processors says a current government proposal to eliminate listeriabacteria, which often proves fatal to humans, goes too far. New requirements would cover canned foods, Willard notes, even though such products have traditionally proven quite safe.

"Are you just doing it because it sounds good, or is this truly going to be effective?" he asks.

What kinds of food safety regulating are we likely to see from the Bush administration?

Earlier this month, the White House made a rapid about-face from an initial decision to kill Clinton administration rules requiring salmonella testing of meat served through the federal school lunch program.

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