CDC: Clostridium perfringens Foodborne Outbreaks Often Large

Emma Hitt, PhD

March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012 (Atlanta, Georgia) — Foodborne illness outbreaks resulting from Clostridium perfringens were often large and caused substantial morbidity from 1998 to 2008, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Julian Grass, MPH, a surveillance epidemiologist at the CDC Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, and colleagues presented the findings here at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases 2012.

"Our finding that meats are by far the most common vehicle of C perfringens outbreaks speaks to the need for proper cooking, cooling, and hot holding of these foods," Grass told Medscape Medical News.

"We thought it was particularly interesting that outbreaks peak during the holiday season, when people tend to gather in large groups to eat foods such as roasts, gravies, and poultry that are cooked in large batches or prepared ahead of serving," he added.

According to the researchers, C perfringens is estimated to be the third most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, causing 1 million illnesses each year.

This CDC analysis collected local and state health department data voluntarily reported to the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System.

From 1998 to 2008, 253 laboratory-confirmed outbreaks of C perfringens illness were reported, which included 13,182 illnesses, 74 hospitalizations, and 5 deaths.

There appeared to be no apparent trend from year to year; the annual number of outbreak-related illnesses ranged from 359 to 2173, with a median outbreak size of 24 illnesses (range, 2 to 950).

Restaurants, the most common setting of food preparation, were responsible for 44% of outbreaks. Other settings included catering facilities (19%), private homes (13%), prisons or jails (11%), and schools (4%).

About half of the outbreaks were attributed to a single food commodity; of those, beef was implicated in 46% of the outbreaks. The next most common causes were poultry, which caused 30% of outbreaks, and pork, which caused 16%.

In all, 91% of outbreaks with an identified single food commodity could be attributed to meat or poultry products.

Seasonal data suggested that most outbreaks occurred in the fall (28%), followed by the spring (26%), winter (24%), and summer (22%).

"Clinicians should continue to promptly report any cases of C perfringens illness to their local or state health officials," Grass said. "This will help increase the chance of outbreaks being detected and investigated," he added.

The study was not commercially funded. The researchers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID) 2012: Board 141. Presented March 12, 2012.


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