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Food Safety

Foodborne Illness-Clostridium perfringens

What is Clostridium perfringens?

Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a bacterium. It lives naturally in the environment and can be found frequently in the gut of people and some animals.

Why does it make us sick?

Not all C. perfringens make us sick. Some produce a toxin in the gut that can cause illness. When someone eats food contaminated with a large amount of C. perfringens that produces toxin they may get sick.

What are the symptoms of C. perfringens food poisoning?

The most common symptoms are stomach cramps and diarrhea.

How dangerous is it?

C. perfringens is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates it causes nearly 1 million cases each year.

Most people recover within 24 hours, but illness can be severe in some people and in rare cases can lead to death.

Many factors may impact how sick someone gets from C. perfringens including a person’s age, preexisting health conditions and how much contaminated food was eaten.

How is it treated?

Most people recover without medical attention. In severe cases, hospitalization and supportive care may be needed.

What kinds of food can cause C. perfringens food poisoning?

These bacteria are common on raw or undercooked meat, poultry and gravies, as well as dried or pre-cooked foods.

Infections often happen when food sits out for a long time before serving. This can occur at home, in a cafeteria, catered event or holiday gathering. To prevent illness, hot foods should never be allowed to cool lower than 140°F and cold foods should be kept cooler than 41°F.

How can I tell if food is contaminated?

Foods that have dangerous bacteria in them may not taste, smell, or look different. Any food that has been left out too long may be dangerous to eat, even if it looks okay.

How can C. perfringens food poisoning be prevented?

  • Cook food thoroughly, and keep it warmer than 140°F or cooler than 41°F. These temperature extremes prevent the bacteria from growing.
  • Serve meat dishes hot, right after cooking.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. It is okay to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Large pots of food such as soup or stew, or large cuts of meats such as roasts or whole chickens, should be divided for refrigeration.
  • All leftovers should be covered before refrigeration, and reheated to at least 165°F before serving.