Clostridium perfringens

This is another type of food poisoning from the Clostridium family. It also occurs as a result of consuming infected food, in particular chicken and red meat and is as equally as unpleasant as clostridium botulinum.

This is the third most common type of food poisoning within the US and the UK.

The clostridium perfringens bacteria

These bacteria have a slim, rod shaped appearance and produce spores which act as carriers of this disease. They release toxins which cause symptoms of clostridium perfringens poisoning.

These bacteria are found within the intestinal tract of both animals and humans; infected soil and faeces, and rotting vegetation. An example of this is when animal faeces are deposited within soil or water which is in contact with food.

Another example is someone who has handled infected soil but fails to wash their hands properly, thereby causing this infection to pass through the soil and into the food chain.

Causes of clostridium perfringens poisoning

The main cause is that of eating contaminated food, usually as a result of being undercooked or left out on a kitchen worktop for a long period time.

Cooking food at high temperatures usually kills off bacteria but this does not apply to the clostridium perfringens bacteria. These bacteria have evolved to the extent that they produce heat resistant spores which are capable of withstanding temperatures up to 75 degrees Celsius.

Even worse, these high temperatures cause these bacteria to multiply.

This is a particular risk if food has been cooked but is not eaten straight away. This food is then left out to cool rather than being stored in the fridge which enables these bacteria to reproduce millions of spores.

An example of this is cooked chicken in which the leftovers are placed on top of a kitchen surface rather than stored in the fridge.

Once this food is consumed these spores pass down the digestive tract and invade cells within the walls of the intestines. They then secrete toxins which cause damage within these cells and the intestinal tract in general.

This damage takes the form of the symptoms described below.

Symptoms of clostridium perfringens poisoning

These appear within 12 hours of consuming infected food and include:

  • Nausea (occasional)
  • Vomiting (rare)
  • Fever (rare)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhoea

These symptoms usually clear after a day or so.

Treatment for clostridium perfringens poisoning

If you develop this illness but are not severely dehydrated or fall into a high risk category then you can treat this at home.

This means ingesting plenty of fluids and possibly re-hydration powders which will replace vitamins and minerals which have become depleted as a result of your illness.

Get plenty of rest.

Try to prevent this illness from spreading to other people. This means ensuring that you wash your hands before and after handling food and after you visit the toilet.

If your job involves working with food then contact your employer. Do this if you develop this illness whilst at work to prevent it from spreading.

Preventing clostridium perfringens poisoning

This type of food poisoning occurs where large amounts of food have been cooked and left out to cool, often for a long period of time. During this time the bacteria have time to thrive and multiply which causes this infection.

A better idea is to cook food in smaller batches before storing it in a fridge. Try to cool down this food within a couple of hours –which is where the smaller portions will help –before storage.

Be aware that these bacteria are heat resistant so ensure that food is cooked at the highest temperature required and for the correct amount of time. Do not be tempted to skimp on the cooking time.

Other measures include washing your hands before you handle or prepare food; ensuring that raw and cooked foods are not mixed together (known as ‘cross contamination’) and washing utensils and kitchen surfaces thoroughly after use.

This is discussed further in our preventing food poisoning section.

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