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A potentially deadly intestinal germ increasingly found in hospitals is also showing up in grocery store meats. Clostridium difficile, a gut bug known as "C. diff." has shown up in 40% of meats sampled from three Arizona chain stores. C. diff. was found in samples of beef, pork, turkey, and ready-to-eat meats like summer sausage.

While there have been no documented cases of people getting C. diff. infections from eating food that contains C. diff., the possibility exists. The problem is that C. diff. can’t be traced quickly to its source. A person can eat the tainted food today, but not experience the symptoms of the disease for weeks.

The contamination of grocery store meats is not centered in Arizona. The samples that were collected for the study, were from national brands available in grocery stores across the country. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stands confident that there is no threat to people from potentially infected meat. Animal-to-human transmissions have not yet been confirmed, but is possible.

C. diff. infection in meat is not the only area where the germ has been found. Studies have found C. diff. in the water supply and ground soil. This makes it difficult to determine whether a person has been infected from the hamburger meat they just ate, or the vegetables that were on top of the hamburger.

Nearly 80% of C. diff. infections occur in hospitals. For many years, C. diff. was a common usually benign bug associated with simple, easily treated diarrhea in older patients in hospitals and nursing homes. But overuse of antibiotics has allowed the germ to develop a resistance in recent years. This has created a new, more virulent strain called NAP1, which produces 20 times the toxins of ordinary strains and can only be treated with the most powerful drugs.

Consumer should be worried about C. diff., but not in their food. Hospitals and health care centers are the main areas affected by C. diff. Consumers should pay close attention to hand hygiene, improperly cleaned hospital rooms, and overuse of antibiotics. These areas are far more likely to transmit C. diff. than food products.

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