Perfringens Outbreak in Illinois Linked to Poor Temperature Control

Earlier this month, about 30 people were sickened in Evanston, Illinois with <"">perfringens food poisoning after attending a parent-teacher conference at the Haven Middle School. According to Barfblog, the school’s and caterer’s—Merle’s BBQ Restaurant—practices were reviewed and food from the event was sampled.

“Based on positive laboratory tests from the food samples, the Evanston Health Department confirmed the bacteria came from the barbeque pulled chicken that was prepared and cooked at Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and delivered to Haven Middle School where it was then served ‘buffet style’ between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. No temperatures were taken at the time of delivery and the food was not kept heated or refrigerated during the time it was being served,” said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas, according to Barfblog.

However, Thomas cautioned that the investigation found that unsafe food handling occured at both the restaurant at the school, Barfblog said. As a result, it is unlikely that the cause of the perfrigans food poisoning outbreak will ever be determined.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes Clostridium perfringens as causing perfringens food poisoning. Perfringens Poisoning Symptoms include intense Abdominal Cramps and diarrhea, which begin eight to 22 hours after consuming foods containing sufficient C. perfringens bacteria to produce the food poisoning toxin.

The most severe symptoms generally last about one day; less severe symptoms may persist in some people for one-to-two weeks and some deaths have been reportedly linked to Perfringens due to Dehydration and other complications. At least one Perfringens strain, Necrotic enteritis (pig-bel), while rare, can be fatal, noted the FDA.

If food is maintained at improper temperatures, specifically between 70 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, said Barfblog, Clostridium perfringens spores can remain after cooking, and can germinate and multiply, leading to Food Poisoning. Merle’s temperature control in transport and at the school, could be involved, said Barfblog, which noted that inspection results at the caterer’s revealed temperature, hand-washing, and sanitation issues.

In most instances, said the FDA, the actual cause of poisoning by C. perfringens is temperature abuse of prepared foods. Small numbers of the organisms are often present after cooking and multiply to food poisoning levels during cool down and storage. Meats, meat products, and gravy are the foods most frequently implicated.

In the United States, 1,162 cases were reported in 1981 in 28 separate outbreaks of Perfringens, said the FDA; some 10-to-20 outbreaks have been reported annually in the U.S. for the past 20 years. Typically, dozens, even hundreds are affected and it’s likely many outbreaks go unreported because implicated foods or patient feces are not routinely tested for C. perfringens or its toxin. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 10,000 actual cases occur each year in the U.S.

Perfringens poisonings typically occur in institutional feeding environments, such as school cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, in which larger food quantities are prepared hours before being served, said the FDA.

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