SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Bacteria Clostridium perfringens has been identified as the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak that led to the death of three people on Thanksgiving Day in Antioch, a city northeast of San Francisco.
"Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S.," Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) said Tuesday. "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."
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.
In addition to 3 fatalities, 22 others reported illnesses within 24 hours of consuming food at the charity event. CCHS' Public Health and Environmental Health divisions investigated all these 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 noted that 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 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," she said.