A recent study showed 28% of patient meals sampled from a university hospital in Houston were found to be contaminated with toxigenic Clostridium difficile bacterium, and researchers think undercooked food is to blame.
"The temperatures at which hospital foods are cooked may be too low to kill the bug," according to Hoonmo Koo, MD, assistant professor of medicine and an infectious-disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and lead author of the study, "Contamination of Hospital Food with Clostridium Difficile." The study results were presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in October.
Sampled food included chicken, beef, seafood, and fruits and vegetables, but the highest instance of contamination occurred in 60% of dessert items, which were kept at an average of 62 degrees, the report noted.
Jonathan Pell, MD, assistant professor of hospital medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, says food contaminated with C. diff might not be unique to the hospital setting.
"As far as we know, food at Arby's has the same concentration of toxigenic C. diff," Dr. Pell said in an email to The Hospitalist. He notes the strain of bacteria found in food is typically different from that found in affected humans, a fact outlined in a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report states that toxinotype V strains of C. diff—those often found in food animals—are "currently an uncommon cause of human illness, which may occur more frequently among persons without traditional risk factors associated with [C. diff-associated disease], such as recent exposure to a healthcare setting."
Despite the need for further research, hospitalists and health professionals are encouraged to continue practicing thorough hand-washing hygiene in the hospital setting to prevent the spread of bacteria.