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Foodborne Illness: Clostridium Perfringens

Condition Basics

What is C. perfringens foodborne illness?

C. perfringensfoodborne illness is caused by infection with the Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) bacterium. C. perfringens is found frequently in the intestines of humans and many animals and is present in soil and areas contaminated by human or animal feces.

What causes it?

In most cases, C. perfringens foodborne illness results when you eat improperly cooked and stored foods. Normally, C. perfringens spores are found on food after cooking. Bacteria can multiply and cause C. perfringens foodborne illness if the foods sit out and cool before refrigerating. Commonly infected foods include meats, meat products, and gravy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of C. perfringens foodborne illness include intense abdominal cramps and watery diarrhea. Your symptoms usually appear 6 to 24 hours after eating foods containing large numbers of C. perfringens. The disease usually is over within 24 to 48 hours.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a medical history and physical examination and ask you questions about your symptoms, foods you have recently eaten, and your work and home environments. A stool culture and blood tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

How is C. perfringens foodborne illness treated?

You treat C. perfringens foodborne illness by managing any complications until it passes. Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting is the most common complication. Do not use medicines, including antibiotics and other treatments, unless your doctor recommends them.

To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. You can take frequent sips of a rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte). Soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks have too much sugar and not enough of the important electrolytes that are lost during diarrhea. These kinds of drinks should not be used to rehydrate.

When you feel like eating again, start with small amounts of food.

How can you prevent it?

You can prevent C. perfringens foodborne illness by cooling and storing foods correctly.

  • Shop safely. Bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other food items. Drive home immediately after finishing your shopping so that you can store all foods properly.
  • Prepare foods safely. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Also wash them after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by rinsing them well with running water. If possible, use two cutting boards—one for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Otherwise, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them.
  • Store foods safely. Cook, refrigerate, or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and ready-to-eat foods within 2 hours. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4°C (40°F) or colder. Throw away any food that has been left out for 2 hours or more.
  • Cook foods safely. Use a clean meat thermometer to determine whether foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Reheat leftovers to at least 74°C (165°F). Do not eat undercooked hamburger, and be aware of the risk of foodborne illness from raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters.
  • Serve foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot [60°C (140°F) or above] and cold foods cold [4°C (40°F) or below].
  • Divide large amounts of food, such as roasts or big pots of chili or stew, into shallow containers and refrigerate immediately. It is OK to put hot foods directly in the refrigerator.
  • Follow labels on food packaging. Food packaging labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it. Reading food labels and following safety instructions will reduce your chances of becoming ill with foodborne illness.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure whether a food is safe, don't eat it. Reheating food that is contaminated will not make it safe. Don't taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but still may not be safe to eat.

It is important to pay particular attention to food preparation and storage during warm months when food is often served outside. Bacteria grow faster in warmer weather, so food can spoil more quickly and possibly cause illness. Do not leave food outdoors for more than 1 hour if the temperature is above 32°C (90°F), and never leave it outdoors for more than 2 hours.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 3/2/2022

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.