Cause of Contra Costa County Thanksgiving Foodborne Illness Outbreak Identified
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
The foodborne illness outbreak reported after a Thanksgiving Day charity event in Antioch was caused by the bacteria Clostridium perfringens.
A laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the bacteria in stool samples taken from people sickened by food served at the Nov. 24 holiday celebration, held by a community church at Antioch’s American Legion auditorium.
“Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S. It can be found in the human intestine without hurting us, but eating food containing large amounts of this bacteria can cause illness and in some cases death,” said Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS).
CCHS’ Public Health and Environmental Health divisions investigated 25 related reports of foodborne illness after the event, including three fatal cases.
“Our investigation was not able to determine exactly what people ate that made them sick. But after extensive interviews we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time. Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes,” said Dr. Marilyn Underwood, CCHS Environmental Health director.
Underwood said proper food handling is essential to prevent foodborne illness, including cooking foods to proper temperatures, cooling and storing them appropriately if they’re not going to be eaten right away, separating raw meats from foods that won’t be cooked, storing food properly and washing hands and cooking surfaces often.
“We’re saddened for the families that suffered losses this holiday season. We encourage anyone planning charity events where food will be served to the public to contact us to understand the permitting process and to learn about food safety,” said Underwood.
All of the reported illnesses occurred within 24 hours of the patients consuming food from the event.
For more information about preventing foodborne illness or about C. perfringens, visit cchealth.org/clostridium-perfringens
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