A recent article published by IFR’s Emeritus Fellow Dr Barbara Lund and Professor Mike Peck in the journal “Foodborne Pathogens and Disease” reviews the question whether food may be a route of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI).
C. difficile is a major cause of illness in patients in hospitals and healthcare settings and also occurs in the community. Transmission of CDI has long been considered to occur from person to person, but recent studies have shown that a high proportion of CDI cases cannot be matched to previous cases. It is highly likely, therefore, that other routes of transmission exist, of which food may be one.
Lund and Peck’s paper considers one possible foodborne route. C. difficile is found in the intestinal tract of food animals, such as pigs, cattle and poultry, and can also be found in some retail raw meat samples in North America and Europe. Like Clostridium perfringens, an important foodborne pathogen, C. difficile forms heat-resistant spores that can survive cooking processes.
The major cause of food poisoning by C. perfringens is retention of cooked meat products at temperatures that allow growth of the bacteria from surviving spores; previous work by Peck and colleagues at IFR has defined the temperature control required during cooling to prevent this.
In order to assess the risk that C. difficile will be transferred in a similar way, research is needed to determine the effect of temperature, during and after cooking, and of other factors on survival of spores and germination and growth of the bacteria in a product.