Turkey, Stuffing, and a Side of Food Poisoning

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a recent study notes that foodborne transmission of Clostridium difficile is a distinct possibility.

Clostridium difficile infection fits the criteria for foodborne illnesses and could be reclassified, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

Researchers from the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph in Canada conducted a literature review of published studies in order to understand whether C. difficile could be a foodborne illness. The study authors pointed out that previously, it was accepted that C. difficile was acquired through clinical settings, but now it is understood that the majority of cases are acquired in community settings, they wrote.

Even though there have been no foodborne illness outbreaks linked directly to C. difficile, the researchers wrote, foods like meat, seafood and fresh produce can harbor spores which can germinate.

In one study used in the analysis, the researchers found that C. difficile is frequently found in animals, those used as pets and those used for meat productions, such as pigs, cattle and poultry. The investigators learned that young animals have the highest prevalence for C. difficile, especially in herds being given medicated food.

Wild animals can also be a source for C. difficile, as they travel between rural farms and urban centers, the researchers explained. These animals, like raccoons, shrews, deer mice, house mice, skunks, rats, voles, opossums and groundhogs all present some risk, though the prevalence is still not completely quantified.

One study conducted in a pork slaughter house showed that C. difficile was present in 80% of manure samples taken from the holding area, 15% of the carcasses post bleed, and 1.5% at post evisceration. Other studies of pork slaughter houses showed various rates of C. difficile prevalence, the researchers added.

Fresh produce also has the opportunity to carry C. difficile, but leafy greens seem to occasionally host C. difficile in particular. The origins of C. difficile in produce may come from water, manure, compost and/ or biosolids, the researchers said, but again, that is yet to be understood.

One of the common criteria for the definition of a foodborne illness is the growth of spores in food, the researchers said. This appears to be true of C. difficile, but they are still unable to ascertain to what degree this is true. If so, it could be reclassified.

“In reality, it is likely that C. difficile is foodborne but this is one of several routes that includes zoonotic, water borne, environmental and person to person,” the authors concluded. “It is reasonable to suggest that we are exposed to toxigenic C. difficile on a daily basis but only leads to C. difficile infection when a combination of events occurs to disrupt the microbiome and compromise the functioning of the immune system.”

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