The Polk County Health Department has released a report about a Clostridium perfringens food poisoning outbreak at the Roosevelt High School staff luncheon on October 22, 2015. That outbreak sickened at least 58 teachers with a diarrheal illness. Classes and after-school activities were cancelled in that school district to protect students.
The Polk County Health Department worked with Des Moines Public School officials, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Department of Inspections and Appeals and the State Hygienic Laboratory to investigate the outbreak. They interviewed 103 sick and well teachers and staff, including those who attended the lunch and those who did not. They also interviewed patients and ill food handlers, and tested stool samples and food samples. Two outside caterers provided the food for the luncheon.
Clostridium perfringens was found in the meat served at the luncheon and in several of the patient’s stool samples. Further DNA testing continues and may provide additional information.
The press release stated “no long term consequences are associated with the infection”, but that is inaccurate. One study found that Clostridium perfringens infections may be associated with later development of multiple sclerosis. The researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College found that a rare strain of C. perfringens caused MS-like damage in the brain of mice. The toxin entered the bloodstream and killed myelin-producing cells. While this study is small and must be expanded before doctors can say there is a definite link between the two, it identifies another possible environmental trigger for multiple sclerosis. It’s important that this illness is recorded on your medical data for the future.
The symptoms of Clostridium perfringens food poisoning include diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The illness begins suddenly, usually within 6 to 24 hours after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria. Those sickened with this infection do not have fever or vomiting. The illness is not passed from one person to another.
Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in this country, causing almost 1,000,000 cases every year. The bacteria is found on raw meat and poultry. Cooking kills the cells, but not the spores that an produce more bacteria. These outbreaks occur if cooked food is not served promptly, is not refrigerated after cooking, or is held at improper temperatures for a long period of time.
The bacteria grows quickly at room temperature. These outbreaks often occur when foods are prepared in large quantities and kept warm, but not hot enough, for a long time before serving. Banquets, weddings, and other gatherings are often the site of these outbreaks.
To prevent Clostridium perfringens outbreaks, caterers and restaurants should know food safety rules and laws. Always cook foods to safe internal temperatures checked with an accurate food thermometer. If hot foods are cooled down, they should be reheated to at least 160°F before serving. To cool foods properly, place hot foods in shallow containers and immediately refrigerate or freeze. And always keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold when transporting food or serving food at a buffet.