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Food Born Illnesses - Clostridium Perfringens

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Clostridium Perfringens (C. Perfringens) are an amazingly tenacious spore-forming bacterium which is found naturally in the intestines of humans and animals, as well as other environmental sources which cause foodborne illness or food poisoning. This bacterium is anaerobic, meaning it requires little to no oxygen to thrive. C Perfrngens releases toxins and when consumed in large quantities, cause illness. They are classified into five types based on the ability to produce one or more type of toxins. Types A, most common, and C are pathogenic to humans and animals. (PHAoC, 2011) C. Perfringes has two stages; dormant and vegetative, or live. The stages indicate the whether or not the bacterium is growing and causing greater illness risk. Clostridium Perfringens are the third most common pathogen leading to domestically acquired foodborne illnesses at almost one million cases each year (CDC, Food Safety, 2011) .

Clostridium Perfringens which lead to illness are commonly found in food sources such as gravies, dried or precooked foods, beef, and poultry. Food prepared in large quantities and kept warm for long periods of time before serving are more likely to cause an outbreak. Locations at risk include schools, prisons, hospitals, and even catering events. While Clostridium Perfringens are not transferred between humans, there are transmission risks between humans and animals for types A & C. Due to the nature and existing C. Perfringens in the intestines, everyone is susceptible to food poisoning from these bacteria.
While exact amounts which cause illness are not exact, it is stated that the ingestion of food containing 10^8 or more viable vegetative C. Perfringens are cause for food poisoning. (PHAoC, 2011) Young and elderly are most at risk for this illness, with complications significantly fewer in those under 30.

Preventing growth of the spores are paramount in the prevention of this illness. These bacteria germinate in high heat ranging from 54 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit with rapid germination between 109 degrees to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. (CDC, Food Safety: Clostridium Perfringens, 2013) By reducing the times which foods are between these temperatures, one can reduce the risk of contracting the illness. Temperature abuse is listed as the most common circumstance in outbreaks. In order to prevent C. Perfringens, cook all food thoroughly and warm at temperatures exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It is ideal to reheat leftovers at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, ensure foods cool to less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. (CDC, Food Safety: Clostridium Perfringens, 2013) Consume meat hot after cooking. Leftovers should be cooled as soon as possible, within 2 hours of preparation, to ensure minimum time in the germination temperature range. Also, reducing the volume and depth of containers to rapidly cool or heat minimizing vegetative timeline is beneficial. Removing lids or wrap until food is cooled also reduces the cooling time. Ensure overstocking refrigerator to allow proper circulation. C. Perfringens are resistant to heat and gamma-irradiation and can survive in boiling temperatures for an hour.

Clostridium Perfringens symptoms can be easily mistaken for several other foodborne illnesses. Common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, muscle ache, abdominal bloating, increased gas, and nausea. In some cases, vomiting has occurred, but is not common. Fever is not a symptom and is usually a sign of another issue or foodborne illness. The symptoms surface between six to twenty-four hours after ingestion. Duration of the illness typically lasts less than twenty-four hours however severe cases can last one to two weeks. Treatments vary based on severity. Oral rehydration, IV fluids, electrolyte replacement, and in severe cases antibiotics may be beneficial. In most cases, antibiotics are not recommended (CDC, Food Safety: Clostridium Perfringens, 2013). Some strains are antibiotic resistant as well as most are resistant to most disinfectants and alcohol. In some cases, this illness may cause complication and encourage the contraction of diseases such as Clostridial Myonecrosis, Clostridial Cellulitis, Eneritis Necrotican, and rarely CNS diseases such as Meningitis and Endephalitis. While usually not fatal, deaths have been reported due to complications, such as the contraction of the above listed diseases in conjunction with C. Perfringens.

May 7, 2010, forty-two residents and twelve staff contracted Clostridium Perfringens, type A, at a Louisiana state psychiatric hospital. Within twenty-four hours, three patients had died. The deceased ranged from 41-61 years old and from complications with anti-intestinal motility side effects. Upon contracting this illness, two of the deaths were found to have resulted from necrotizing colitis. During the investigation, it was found that the culprit was chicken which had been cooked 24 hours prior to serving and did not follow the food safety guidelines set by the hospital.

While one cannot avoid these bacteria completely, it is essential to understand the risks and importance of food safety. Clostridium Perfringens are extremely hardy. The best way one can prevent the illness is to be knowledgeable about the prevention of germination and the toxins which are created and utilize the preventative measures instructed by the Center for Disease Control.

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