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Food Poisoning: Clostridium Perfringens - Topic Overview

What is C. perfringens food poisoning?

C. perfringens food poisoning 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 C. perfringens food poisoning?

In most cases, C. perfringens food poisoning results when you eat improperly cooked and stored foods. Normally, bacteria are found on food after cooking, and these bacteria can multiply and cause C. perfringens food poisoning 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 food poisoning 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 hours. Less severe symptoms may last for 1 or 2 weeks.

How is C. perfringens food poisoning diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a medical history and physical exam 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 it treated?

You treat C. perfringens food poisoning 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, take frequent sips of a rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte). Try to drink a cup of water or rehydration drink for each large, loose stool you have. You can also use a sports drink, such as Gatorade. Soda and fruit juices have too much sugar and not enough of the important electrolytes that are lost during diarrhea, and they should not be used to rehydrate.

Try to stay with a healthy diet as much as possible. Eating healthy foods will help you to get enough nutrition. Doctors believe that eating a healthy diet will also help you feel better faster. But try to avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Also avoid spicy foods, alcohol, and coffee for 2 days after all symptoms have disappeared.

How can I prevent C. perfringens food poisoning?

You can prevent C. perfringens food poisoning by cooling and storing foods correctly (adapted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

  • 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 40°F (4°C) or colder.
  • Cook foods safely. Use a clean meat thermometer to determine whether foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F (74°C). Do not eat undercooked hamburger, and be aware of the risk of food poisoning from raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters.
  • Serve foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot [140°F (60°C) or above] and cold foods cold [40°F (4°C) or below].
  • 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 food poisoning.
  • 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 90°F (32°C), and never leave it outdoors for more than 2 hours.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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