Cubano sandwiches with Clostridium perfringens found in Alaska investigation

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The Anchorage Daily News reports that Alaska health officials have traced the source of a foodborne illness outbreak that sickened dozens of hospital workers in Homer to a single item

The Department of Health and Social Services said in a release Monday that it was Cubano sandwiches.  Experts who investigated the incident think. In fact, it was probably the pulled pork inside of it, said Jeremy Ayers, section manager with the Food Safety and Sanitation Program within the Division of Environmental Health.

When investigating an outbreak, epidemiologists look at people’s symptoms and when they began. They start to form an idea of what dish was the likely offender. In this case, a lot of signs pointed to the Cubano, Ayers said.

“[The] statistics that they came up with were pretty compelling that that sandwich was the implicated food item,” Ayers said.

Experts determined that the Homer incident likely involved a pathogen associated with cooked meat and poultry called Clostridium perfringens.

It’s a common cause behind a lot of foodborne illnesses nationally, Ayers said. If meat is improperly handled — either cooled too slowly or if the food isn’t kept cold enough or hot enough — the spore of the bacteria can grow and proliferate through the food.

When a person consumes the bacteria it then produces toxins in the human body.

What is Clostridium perfringens?

Clostridium perfringens a bacterium that is widely distributed in the environment. Most outbreaks of this “bug” are associated with undercooked meats prepared for large groups of people. Meat products such as stews, casseroles, and gravy are the most common sources of illness from Clostridium perfringens. Most outbreaks come from food whose temperature is poorly controlled. If food is kept between 70 and 140 F, it is likely to grow Clostridium perfringens bacteria.

What is the illness caused by Clostridium perfringens typically like?

People generally experience symptoms of Clostridium perfringens infection 6 to 24 hours after consuming the bacteria or toxins. Clostridium perfringens toxins cause abdominal pain and stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea. Nausea is also a common symptom. Fever and vomiting are not normal symptoms of poisoning by Clostridium perfringens toxins.

Illness from Clostridium perfringens generally lasts around 24 hours and is rarely fatal.

The Type C strain of Clostridium perfringens can cause a more serious condition called Pig-bel Syndrome. This syndrome can cause intestinal cells to die and can often be fatal.

The department is still waiting on the Centers for Disease Control to fully confirm that the bacteria was the culprit, he said.

In total, 80 South Peninsula Hospital employees reported gastrointestinal illness symptoms after eating food brought in for employees meals from local establishments.

It’s fairly rare for Alaska to see an outbreak of such magnitude when it’s not associated with some sort of national foodborne illness outbreak, Ayers said. The sandwich was not sold to the general public and Ayers said the agency has no more concern about risks to the public going forward.

Only hospital staff at the food and no patients consumed it, health officials said.

Almost all symptoms resolved within 24 hours, health officials wrote. No one who ate the food reportedly needed hospitalization, health officials said.

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