A Flavobacterium meningosepticum outbreak, involving 12 infected and 47 colonized intensive care patients during the months of February through July 1990, was investigated. F. meningosepticum was isolated from tap water and ice, but these environmental strains eventually proved to be distinct from those colonizing patients. A review of newly colonized patients' charts revealed that a common factor among the patients was daily changes of ventilator tubing pasteurized in the hospital's central sterile department. More than 90% of patients in the outbreak had been on ventilators that used the pasteurized tubing. An investigation of the pasteurization process found that two pasteurizer tanks had been operating at suboptimal temperatures (< 62 degrees C). Cultures of water from the tanks and droplets of water found in the pasteurized tubing grew species of Acinetobacter, Moraxella, and Pseudomonas but did not grow F. meningosepticum. After deficiencies in the pasteurization process were corrected, the outbreak terminated. Despite the failure to culture F. meningosepticum, an analysis of gram-negative bacillary isolates showed that the deficiency in the pasteurization process was a major contributor to colonization of ventilated patients by bacteria ubiquitous in tap water.