U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tim Vilsack wants Congress to give the government more power to take action during tainted-food incidents.
In a speech Monday night, he called for mandatory recalls to quickly remove dangerous products.
Deaths from Tainted Food
Each year, contaminated food in the U.S. causes about 5,000 deaths with 75 million people becoming ill.
Stephanie Smith is an extreme case. She thought she had a stomach virus -- but then it turned to seizures, convulsions and a coma until finally she was paralyzed from the waist down.
"I just kept getting sicker and sicker," she said.
The 22-year-old's illness was traced to E. coli. She says the E. coli was linked to a frozen, pre-packaged hamburger her mother grilled for dinner.
ABC News Medical Editor Richard Besser says her case is rare, but highlights the dangers of E. coli.
"It lives in the intestines of cattle and so ground beef is particularly risky," Besser said. "Her ground beef came from three states in the country of Uruguay. That means different kinds of meat were mixed together.
Now, Vilsack is telling Minnesota Public Radio that the Obama administration plans to ask Congress for legislation to allow mandatory recalls of tainted food.
"If there's a problem, we'd like to be able to respond quickly, rather than rely on a voluntary recall that may not be either timely or fully implemented," Vilsack said.
With health care reform on the table, it is unknown how seriously -- or when -- Congress will consider the recall bill.
In the meantime, visit FoodSafety.gov and be aware of just where your food is coming from.
Besser said, "Unless you know that a butcher is grinding up a piece of meat and you're cooking it well, you may be eating tens or dozens or thousands of cows when you have a hamburger."