Clostridium perfringens

  Clostrdium perfringens

I love to say the name of this bacteria! It is the second leading cause of foodborne illness and outbreaks in the U.S. Some interesting things about C. perfringens are that there are two types of illnesses that can be caused by the bacteria, and that it forms spores. I have another section where I describe what spores are and how they work, which you may want to read.  As with most illnesses, the very young and very old are most affected, as are those with weakened immune systems.

The most common type of perfringens causes a fairly mild, watery diarrhea with cramps. The symptoms can begin within 8 to 16 hours after eating, and usually go away by themselves within 24 hours. Many cases are reported in the U.S., but many go unreported as well, probably because a lot of people think they just have “the stomach flu”, or a bug.

News flash!!!! There is no such thing as “the stomach flu”. Flu is actually a respiratory disease – it occurs in your lungs, throat, nasal passages etc. When you have an upset tummy, you usually have some kind of virus.  Also, C. perfringens is hard to detect in stool samples, another reason it is not usually reported to doctors or other medical-type people.

This disease is sometimes called the “cafeteria germ”, because it is often associated with meats and gravies, or meat based dishes that have been cooked, and held warm for a long time, but have not been kept hot enough to kill bacteria. (See my information on correct holding temperatures) C. perfringens has been detected in beef, poultry, Mexican food, gravies and sauces, spices and herbs, and processed foods. Institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes have been culprits.

The other form of C. perfringens is very rare in the U.S. It causes a bloated abdomen, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and can often be fatal. It is called “pig-bel disease” in New Guinea. It is results from eating unrefrigerated meat. Luckily we don’t usually see this type here in North America.

Prevention of perfringens can be achieved by cooling down hot foods quickly – don’t let your leftovers sit out for a long period of time. If you are serving hot food, keep it good and hot. (135°F to 140°F or higher.) Put your leftovers away quickly and avoid C. perfringens!