Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a bacterium widespread in the environment and in the intestines of people and animals.
It can form spores that are very tough and are not killed by cooking or boiling.
It can produce a toxin that makes people ill.
What illness does it cause?
It causes gastroenteritis.
This illness is not nationally notifiable (doesn't need to be reported to health authorities unless there is an outbreak—linked illness in two or more people).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea, which usually start 6 to 24 hours after eating contaminated food. There is usually no fever or vomiting.
Most people have mild symptoms and recover quickly (within a day or less).
Who can get sick?
Anyone can get sick with C. perfringens if food is highly contaminated.
Symptoms can be more severe and last longer in elderly people, pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems (like cancer patients).
Where does it come from?
C. perfringens is widespread in the environment, people and animals, and the heat-resistant spores can be found in soil and plants (such as dried spices).
Poor hygiene (e.g. not washing hands properly after the toilet) can also cause food to become contaminated.
Common foods linked to illness include meat and poultry, gravies and pre-cooked foods, especially spiced and herbed dishes.
How can people get sick?
By eating contaminated food that hasn't been properly cooked and cooled, especially food prepared in large quantities.
By reheating food too slowly, or letting it sit at warm temperatures for hours.
How can illness be prevented?
- Cook food thoroughly and serve it immediately or keep it hot (60oC or hotter) before serving.
- If cooked food is going to be stored to use later, cool it quickly: put it in the fridge (or freezer) as soon as it stops steaming. Divide large amounts of hot food into smaller containers to let it cool faster.
- Reheat food quickly.
- Keep hands and equipment clean when preparing and eating food.