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Clostridium Perfringens

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Clostridium perfringens.

Clostridium perfringens is bacteria that can infect the bowel in people and animals. The bacteria produces a toxin that causes illness. Most people infected with these bacteria do not get severe illness. However, in rare cases the infection can cause symptoms.

The basics

What kinds of food are most at risk of contamination?

Clostridium perfringens is most commonly found in meat, poultry, cooked dried beans, and gravies. The bacteria also live in the soil, making contamination from unwashed vegetables a possibility.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Clostridium perfringens?

Illness usually begins suddenly and includes watery diarrhea and abdominal pain. There is usually no fever. Symptoms appear between six and 24 hours after ingestion and last approximately 24 hours. The illness is most serious for the elderly.

How is Clostridium perfringens spread?

You must swallow the Clostridium perfringens toxin to cause disease. This usually happens when someone eats food stored at the wrong temperature after cooking. You can find clostridium perfringens in the stool (feces) of infected people.

Prevention

How can I prevent Clostridium perfringens and other foodborne illness?

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, before handling food, after using the toilet, after changing diapers and after handling your pets or cleaning up after them
  • Cook all food from animal sources thoroughly, especially poultry. If the meat or poultry is still pink in the center, it is not cooked enough
  • When serving foods buffet-style, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Divide up leftover portions of foods for storage. Cool leftovers in a refrigerator. Do not leave food at room temperature
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating
  • Carefully follow “keep refrigerated,” “sell by” and “use by” dates
  • Use clean utensils, dishes and cutting boards to prepare food that is already cooked or food that is eaten raw
  • Wash anything you use to prepare raw meat, seafood, or poultry thoroughly before you touch any other food
  • If you are taking care of someone who has diarrhea, scrub your hands with plenty of soap and water after cleaning the bathroom, helping the person use the toilet, or changing diapers, soiled clothes or soiled sheets
  • If you or your child has persistent diarrhea, or if the diarrhea is severe or contains blood, call your doctor or health center for advice

Treatment

How is Clostridium perfringens diagnosed and treated?

Health care providers usually diagnose cases based on symptoms. In some cases, they may send a stool sample for laboratory testing. It takes several days to get test results. Most people get well without any treatment, but some people can get very sick.

Are there any health regulations for people with Clostridium perfringens?

The law required health care providers to report cases of food poisoning, including those caused by Clostridium perfringens to the local board of health. Report Boston cases to the Boston Public Health Commission at 617-534-5611. 

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