Clostridium perfringens bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. CDC estimates that the bacterium causes nearly 1 million foodborne illnesses in the United States every year.
C. perfringens makes spores, which are inactive forms of the bacterium that help it survive heat, dryness, and other environmental conditions. Under certain conditions, such as when food is kept at an unsafe temperature (between 40°F and 140°F), C. perfringens spores can transform into active bacteria, which multiply in the food. After someone eats food containing C. perfringens, it can produce a toxin (poison) that causes diarrhea.
Foods cooked in large batches and held at unsafe temperatures are typically involved in outbreaks of C. perfringens food poisoning. Specific foods commonly linked to C. perfringens food poisoning include
- Poultry, such as turkey and chicken
- Meat, such as beef and pork
Outbreaks of C. perfringens food poisoning tend to happen in settings where large groups of people are served and keeping food at proper temperatures may be difficult—for example, hospitals, school cafeterias, prisons, nursing homes, and large events with catered food.
Most of these outbreaks happen in November and December. Many of them have been linked to popular holiday foods, such as turkey and roast beef.