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Tips to Prevent Illness from Clostridium Perfringens

Photo: Mother and children gathered around a roasted turkey.Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a bacterium that is often found on raw meat and poultry, and is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States. It is estimated to cause nearly 1 million cases of foodborne illness (sometimes called "food poisoning") each year. C. perfringens is found in many environmental sources as well as in the intestines of humans and animals.

What are common food sources of C. perfringens?
Beef, poultry, gravies, and dried or precooked foods are common sources of C. perfringens infections. C. perfringens infection often occurs when foods are prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a long time before serving. Outbreaks often happen in institutions, such as hospitals, school cafeterias, prisons, and nursing homes, or at events with catered food.

Who is at risk of C. perfringens food poisoning?
Anyone can get food poisoning from C. perfringens. The very young and elderly are most at risk of C. perfringens infection and can experience more severe symptoms that may last for 1–2 weeks. Complications, such as dehydration, may occur in severe cases.

Photo: A plate of food.How can C. perfringens food poisoning be prevented?
To prevent C. perfringens spores from growing in food after it has been cooked, foods such as beef, poultry, gravies, and other foods commonly associated with C. perfringens infections should be cooked thoroughly to recommended temperatures, and then kept at a temperature that is either warmer than 140°F (60°C) or cooler than 41°F (5°C). These temperatures prevent the growth of C. perfringens spores that might have survived the initial cooking process.

Meat dishes should be served hot, right after cooking. Leftover foods should be refrigerated at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within 2 hours of preparation. It is okay to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator. Large pots of food, such as soups or stews, or large cuts of meats, such as roasts or whole poultry, should be divided into small quantities for refrigeration. Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F (74°C) before serving.

Photo: Checking the temperature of a roasted turkey.Foods that have dangerous bacteria in them may not taste, smell, or look different. Any food that has been left out too long may be dangerous to eat, even if it looks okay.

What are the symptoms of C. perfringens food poisoning?
Persons infected with C. perfringens develop diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6–24 hours (typically 8–12). The illness usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours. Persons infected with C. perfringens usually do not have fever or vomiting. The illness is not passed from one person to another.

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