A new study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America has found that one-quarter of the 100 samples taken from food served in hospitals tested positive for Clostridium difficile. While no cases of human illness were linked to that food, researcher Dr. Hoonmo Koo says that contaminated food may be “an important route of spread of C. difficile in hospitals.”
He added that “the temperatures at which hospital foods are cooked may be too low to kill the bug.” Most hospital-acquired cases of this particular bacteria happen in patients who are taking broad-spectrum antibiotics, which kill the bacteria that stop C. difficile growth. C. difficile causes about 14,000 deaths per year and sickens about 500,000 Americans, mostly those in nursing homes and hospitals.
Researchers tested food over an 80 day period at a university hospital in Houston. They found that 50% of turkey samples tested positive for C. difficile. Four out of twelve seafood samples were positive, as were six of fourteen chicken and egg products, and six of twenty-seven vegetables and fruits. These foods did not cause any illness.
But other scientists say that the strain of C. difficile that can contaminate food is not the same strain that causes human disease. The bacteria has been found in pigs, cows, and chickens. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007 found that the strains of C. difficile that cause disease in humans and animal species are not the same. Other studies disagree.
Cooking foods to the proper safe internal temperature, hand washing, and following other rules of hygiene and food safety are the most important ways to prevent foodborne illness.