Atlas of foodborne infections
transmitted by contaminated food and water

Atlas of Patogens Contents Information sources Glossary Administration

Clostridium perfringens

CZ: klostridie
EN: clostridia

Meat and Meat Products


Foodborne Disease:
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food poisoning - abdominal cramps and diarrhoea

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Clostridium perfringens is an anaerobic, Gram-positive spore-forming rod, widely distributed in the environment and frequently occurs in the intestines of humans and many domestic and feral animals. Spores of th - e organism persist in soil, sediments, and areas subject to human or animal faecal pollution.

A more serious but rare illness is also caused by ingesting food contaminated with Type C strains. The latter illness is known as enteritis necroticans or pigbel disease. The common form of perfringens poisoning is characterized by intense abdominal cramps and diarrhoea which begin 8-22 hours after consumption of foods containing large numbers of those C. perfringens bacteria capable of producing the food poisoning toxin. The illness is usually over within 24 hours but less severe symptoms may persist in some individuals for 1 or 2 weeks.

Perfringens poisoning is diagnosed by its symptoms and the typical delayed onset of illness. Diagnosis is confirmed by detecting the toxin in the faeces of patients.

In most instances, the actual cause of poisoning by C. perfringens is temperature abuse of prepared foods. Small numbers of the organisms are often present after cooking and multiply to food poisoning levels during cool down and storage of prepared foods. Meats, meat products, and gravy are the foods most frequently implicated.

Clostridium perfringens causes a much less severe but more common food poisoning than C. botulinum. Illness results from the consumption of food containing high numbers of cells (> 107g) followed by enterotoxin production in the intestine. When contaminated food (typically meat) is cooked, the heat drives off the dissolved oxygen and induces sporulation.

As cooling occurs the spores germinate and the vegetative cells continue to multiply, unless the food is cooled rapidly and kept refrigerated. Clostridium perfringens produces at least 11 separate toxins in addition to the enterotoxin primarily responsible for symptoms. At its optimum temperature, C. perfringens has one of the fastest rates of growth of any bacterium.


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