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Clostridium perfringens food poisoning usually is a consequence of poor temperature control.

Some history

Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) was first recognized as a cause of food poisoning in 1945.

What is C. perfringens, and where is its natural habitat?

C. perfringens is a spore-forming bacterium that is only able to grow in the absence of molecular oxygen (anaerobic conditions). The spores are able to withstand normal cooking temperatures. Spores of C. perfringens are found in soil, dust, and the intestines of animals and humans.

How is C. perfringens transmitted? What is the incubation period of the infection?

C. perfringens food poisoning results when an individual eats food in which the microbe has germinated and grown to elevated numbers (at least 500,000 per gram of food). The bacteria produce spores – and an enterotoxin – once they are in the small intestine. The incubation period for symptoms to develop is 6 to 24 hours; most victims develop symptoms 10 to 12 hours after eating a contaminated meal.

What is C. perfringens food poisoning?

C. perfringens food poisoning symptoms are the result of the enterotoxin that is produced when the bacteria sporulates in the small intestine.

What are the symptoms of C. perfringens food poisoning?

Symptoms include profuse, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and nausea, usually lasting for 12 to 24 hours, but occasionally lasting as long as 48 hours.

What is the prognosis of C. perfringens food poisoning?

The disease is self-limiting; however, symptoms can be more severe and longer lasting in the elderly or in debilitated patients. Rarely, the symptoms can prove fatal to the elderly, the debilitated or the very young.

What foods carry Clostridium perfringens?

C. perfringens is most often associated with meat dishes that are cooked in advance, cooled too slowly, and then reheated inadequately and held at a temperature that promotes bacterial growth. Under these circumstances, spores that are present in the raw meat and that survive the original cooking, are able to germinate and grow while the meat cools and while it is reheated and held.

How can people protect themselves from Clostridium perfringens food poisoning?

  • Always cool cooked food promptly in the refrigerator or freezer. Do not let food stand at room temperature for extended periods of time.
  • When thawing a frozen dish, do so in the refrigerator – not at room temperature.
  • When reheating a cooked dish, bring the temperature of the food to at least 165ºF (74ºC) before serving.
  • Always pay attention to recall notices, and return any recalled item to the store, or discard it in a sealed bag.

For more information on Clostridium perfringens and other food-borne pathogens, visit the CDC website or read Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.

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