Mr. Clinton said in his weekly radio address on Saturday that he is acting to ward off a potential health hazard by assuring that food products rejected at one U.S. port are conspicuously marked and not easily slipped past inspectors at another - a practice known as "port shopping."
"Americans have a right to know that the food they serve their families is safe, whether it comes from the far corners of the world or the corner produce stand," the president said.
Mr. Clinton said he also is ordering the Customs Service and the Food and Drug Administration to "rigorously enforce and expand our policy of destroying imported food that poses a serious health threat rather than risk letting it reach our grocery stores or the global market."
The president said he is acting because imported food is now on more American menus, both at home and in restaurants, than ever before.
But he said he does not want to be unduly alarmist.
"There's no evidence that these fruits and vegetables are less safe than those grown here in the United States," Mr. Clinton said. "But some recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have been traced in imported foods."
In a memo to the secretaries of the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, the president noted that food imports have doubled over the past seven years and that a further 30 percent increase is expected by 2002.
And he called attention to a recent General Accounting Office report that concluded that some food importers are sidestepping the laws "and getting contaminated foods across our borders and onto our kitchen tables."
"It takes only one 'bad apple' to spoil the whole bunch, only one shipment of contaminated food to threaten hundreds, even thousands of Americans," Mr. Clinton said.
"To make sure this unsafe food is easily spotted, we will stamp all rejected food with a clear label," he said.
The president called on Congress to take further steps by granting the Agriculture Department authority to impose civil penalties and order mandatory recalls of unsafe meat and poultry.
And he said Congress should vote the full $72 million he requested to increase the number of inspectors and checks of high-risk food products in the United States and increase the number of inspections of food processors around the world.
Carol Tucker Foreman, head of the Consumer Federation of America, applauded Clinton's moves.
"With today's announcement, the president has done just about all he can do through the executive branch to assure the safety of imported foods," she said in a statement. "With Americans eating increasingly from an international plate, his is an important issue for all of us."