Prevent Illness From C. perfringens
Clostridium perfringens bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. CDC estimates that the bacterium causes nearly 1 million foodborne illnesses in the United States every year.
C. perfringens makes spores, which are inactive forms of the bacterium that help it survive heat, dryness, and other environmental conditions. Under certain conditions, such as when food is kept at an unsafe temperature (between 40°F and 140°F), C. perfringens spores can transform into active bacteria, which multiply in the food. After someone eats food containing C. perfringens, it can produce a toxin (poison) that causes diarrhea.
Foods cooked in large batches and held at unsafe temperatures are typically involved in outbreaks of C. perfringens food poisoning. Specific foods commonly linked to C. perfringens food poisoning include
- Poultry, such as turkey and chicken
- Meat, such as beef and pork
Outbreaks of C. perfringens food poisoning tend to happen in settings where large groups of people are served and keeping food at proper temperatures may be difficult—for example, hospitals, school cafeterias, prisons, nursing homes, and large events with catered food.
Most of these outbreaks happen in November and December. Many of them have been linked to popular holiday foods, such as turkey and roast beef.
Most people with C. perfringens food poisoning have diarrhea and stomach cramps but no vomiting. Symptoms usually begin 6 to 24 hours after swallowing the bacteria. Symptoms can start suddenly and usually last for less than 24 hours. People with diarrhea should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Diagnosis and Treatment
C. perfringens food poisoning is diagnosed when a laboratory test detects the bacteria or toxin in a patient’s stool (poop) sample or the bacteria are found in food linked to the illness. But most people with C. perfringens food poisoning do not receive a diagnosis. That’s because clinical laboratories do not routinely test for C. perfringens, and public health laboratories usually test for it only when it is the suspected cause of an outbreak.
Most people recover from C. perfringens food poisoning without antibiotics. Drink extra fluids as long as diarrhea lasts to prevent dehydration.
- Cook food to a safe temperature to kill germs. Use a food thermometer to check, especially whole poultry and large meat roasts.
- Keep cooked food at 140°F or hotter or 40°F or colder if it will not be served and eaten soon.
- Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder within 2 hours after cooking the food or removing it from an appliance that’s keeping it at a safe temperature. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like a hot car or picnic.
- It is OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
- Divide large pots of food, such as soups and stews, and large cuts of meats, such as roasts, into small quantities to help it cool quickly in the refrigerator.
- Reheat leftovers to 165°F or hotter before serving.
Learn more about preventing food poisoning.
Bacteria can multiply rapidly in food left in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
After food is cooked, do not keep it at room temperature if it will not be served and eaten soon. Instead, keep it heated to 140°F or hotter or refrigerate it at 40°F or colder.
Is turkey on your holiday menu?
- Get tips to prepare your turkey safely.
- Learn how to safely thaw, roast, store, and reheat turkey with USDA’s “Let’s Talk Turkey” guide.
- Contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:
1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Demonstration of C. perfringens enterotoxin in the stool or a count of ≥106 C. perfringens organisms per gram of stool within 48 hours of onset of typical illness is required to confirm infection. CDC accepts specimens only from foodborne outbreaks for testing.
Oral rehydration or, in severe cases, intravenous fluids with electrolytes can be used to prevent or treat dehydration. Antibiotic treatment is not recommended.
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